Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Alabama's crooked system of starving inmates so that sheriffs can use the money for personal expenses finally is being exposed for the whole nation to see


Outgoing Moran Sheriff Ana Franklin
(Decatur Daily)

An Alabama prosecutor is suing his county sheriff for using funds intended for feeding jail inmates to pay her own legal fees. In another sign that nontraditional journalism has immense value, a groundbreaking blog puts the important (and largely unseen) issue in perspective.

Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson filed a lawsuit on December 21 seeking to recover funds outgoing Sheriff Ana Franklin allegedly had used for personal expenses. William Gray of Birmingham, one of Franklin's attorneys, said the sheriff used surplus jail-food money to pay lawyers who helped negotiate a deal with federal prosecutors that recently ended with Franklin pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for willful failure to file a tax return. From an article by Eric Fleischauer, of the Decatur Daily:

Some money originally earmarked for feeding Morgan County jail inmates has gone to pay lawyers for Sheriff Ana Franklin, one of her attorneys said.

The legal expenses may be part of at least $105,000 in jail-food money that Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson alleges the sheriff has taken or spent.

Anderson [on Dec. 21] filed a civil lawsuit against Franklin alleging she has illegally kept and spent state-issued jail food money that she should have been holding in trust exclusively for the feeding of inmates.

This issue has particular resonance here at Legal Schnauzer since I spent more than five months in an Alabama jail (Shelby County) in 2013-14 for reporting on state legal and political corruption, mostly among Republicans. I became the only U.S. journalist to be incarcerated since 2006 and probably the only American in history to essentially be "arrested for blogging," due to a preliminary injunction that has been an unlawful "prior restraint" under more than 200 years of First Amendment law.

I know what it's like to eat Alabama jail food; I survived on it for more than five months. Since then, we've learned that Alabama sheriffs make it a practice to pocket money intended for jail food and use it for their own purposes. That issue first hit the press in early 2018 when former Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin was found to have pocketed $750,000 in jail-food funds and used most of the money to purchase a beach house in north Florida.

A recent report at al.com shows Entrekin, who lost his bid for re-election, made more than $1.5 million from funds that were supposed to be used for feeding federal immigration detainees at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden.

Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Anderson
(Decatur Daily)
Here is the equation for Entrekin, Franklin, and other sticky-fingered Alabama sheriffs: The less money you spend on feeding inmates, the more money you will have for your own ventures. The headline on this post might as well be "Alabama sheriffs live in high style by starving inmates." I once was one of those starving inmates; I lost 25 pounds during my five months in jail, and it would have been worse if I had not had resources to take one of the few survival options available to Alabama inmates.

Morgan County Whistle Blower, a ground-breaking blog that has broken one story after another in the Ana Franklin scandal, summarized Alabama's inmate-food crisis in a Dec. 23 post that focused on the Lawrence County Jail:

Folks these jails have become all about the almighty dollar. They are no longer about corrections or punishment. They are about how much money can we make off the inmates and their families or loved ones.

In Lawrence County, if you bond someone out of jail they now charge a $35.00 jail processing fee. Not sure where this money goes or what it is used for or who gets it. Not sure what the purpose of this fee is since in Lawrence County everyone who is arrested or gets a ticket when paying their fine and court costs pays a $35.00 jail fee. This fee is to pay for the construction of the current jail which is 20 years old. Just another burden added to the families for the money maker. This applies to property bonds and bail bondsmen but the $35.00 is separate from what you have to pay the bondsman and must be paid by the person making the bonds. I think this is a clear case of double dipping. The $35.00 jail fee is being paid twice.

As if that is not bad enough as soon as you walk into the doors of the jail you immediately have access to two machines, the first is so you can put money into their account so they can buy items from the jail including food. This seems like a racket to me; first, you don’t feed them adequately and then sell them overpriced food all the while getting rich off leftover jail food money. Next to the first money machine is another money machine to put money into an account so they can use the phones.

These things put a burden on the families, many of whom are already struggling financially. The phones they can do without but when a loved one calls and says they are hungry and it has been well documented they are not being fed properly by these greedy sheriffs it is hard to not rake and scrape and come up with money for them to buy something to eat.

This whole operation just seems to swirl around how we can make money off people who are in jail and contrary to popular belief most are not hardened criminals like the sheriff portrays them. The food is about like this jail processing fee, it all seems like double dipping to me, getting money from the State for food and then getting money from the inmates for food.

The operations of the Sheriff's Department has gone from one of law enforcement to one with multiple systems within the organization that is totally focused on making money.

That is very well stated, and the highlighted portion particularly hits home because I lived under those conditions for five months. I can add one point to this, and I know about it only because I've experienced it firsthand. Bottom line: An inmate does not suffer from Alabama's crooked jail-food system only while he's incarcerated; its impact can stay with him long after he has been set free.


(To be continued)

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

LS—-this is horrible. To help us better understanding, could you give us some idea of what the inmates are fed on a daily basis? What type of menu items were you served for the three meals?

Hope these practices come to an end!

legalschnauzer said...

@11:07 --

In Shelby County, the food quality was not too bad. I'm not a finicky eater, and I almost always cleaned my plate. At times, some meals were so heavy on starches and carbs (mashed potatoes, pinto beans, cornbread) that I couldn't finish them. The main issue was small portion sizes. Another problem is that you don't get to drink much water, so dehydration is an issue. I suffered from that for several weeks. Finally figured out the problem and took steps to increase my sink-water intake. Our sources of water were the sink, the shower, or the toilet. I spent about a week in Jefferson County Jail, and the food there is barely fit for human consumption. If you've ever spent time on a farm and seen the slop fed to pigs, that's what we are talking about. I'll have more on this in my followup post.

legalschnauzer said...

As for menu items, I remember hot dogs, hamburgers, various forms of grits/porridge/gruel, boiled eggs, turnip greens, lots of beans (in various forms), something that resembled chili. The taste of it in Shelby County generally was OK, but portions were definitely slim. Around the time I got out of jail, or maybe while I was in, Chris Curry stepped down as sheriff, and I heard it was over inmate-food fund issues. I hope he gets exposed.

As for Jefferson County, I can't list menu items because I couldn't tell what any of the stuff was. It did not resemble any human food I'd ever encountered. I can see how people die in the Jeffco Jail, either from the food or constantly being too hot or too cold. They must purposely set the temperature where it is uncomfortable all the time, one way or another.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is a story about Chris Curry choosing not to run for re-election. Story ran on Oct. 10, 2013, roughly two weeks before my arrest. My understanding is that he was looking at an investigation over his use of inmate-food funds.


http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2013/10/shelby_county_sheriff_chris_cu_1.html

Anonymous said...

Some of these sheriffs need to wind up in prison over this. This is theft, and it's inhumane.

Anonymous said...

11:07 again. Thanks for the detailed response and insight. I see where Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) is sponsoring a bill to eliminate 783 sections of state code which restrict jobs that an inmate can hold after release. 783 including interior design, utility line worker, or hair dresser (among many). Hopefully, between exposing the food issue and this effort, inmates can have a fighting chance at some form of life after release.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for the info re: Cam Ward bill. I hope the public understands that jails are holding facilities, for relatively short periods of time, and many of the people held there have not been convicted of anything. As I understand it, you must have a conviction and a sentence of at least one year to be in prison. They are designed to house people for longer periods of time. I met a number of guys in Shelby County who had spent time in both jail and prison, and every one of them said they preferred prison over jail -- the food was better, had access to computers, better recreational opportunities experiences, etc.

The guys I met in jail generally were in for: (1) Probation violation; (2) MJ possession; (3) DUI; (4) Domestic disturbance.

In my case, I wasn't even alleged to have committed a crime. It was a 100 percent civil matter for which jail is not supposed to be on the table.

Anonymous said...

The Morgan County blog has done a great job on the corruption up there. I forget the woman's name who runs the blog, but she deserves an award.

legalschnauzer said...

@2:02 --

She does deserve an award, and I'm pretty sure her name is Glenda Lockhart.

Anonymous said...

Entrekin might have really screwed up by taking the federal money intended to feed immigrant detainees. That could bring the DOJ in here to investigate all of these corrupt Alabama sheriffs.

Anonymous said...

It is, as Morgan County WB states, a food scam. Taxpayers have paid for inmate food, but sheriffs hold back that money then charge inmates who want to buy enough food to live on.

Anonymous said...

My New Year's resolution -- stay out of the Jefferson County Jail.

e.a.f. said...

not adequately feeding people balanced meals can result in serious health issues.

There ought to be over sight on these jails, so they at least meet a state wide standard.