Justice

In Alabama Prisons, The Less Sheriffs Spend On Food For Inmates, The More They Earn

Cullman County Sheriff Mike Rainey

It took almost three quarters of a century, but one Sheriff in Alabama is finally speaking out against a 1939 law that allows for the state’s 67 sheriffs to keep leftover money the state provides to each municipality for feeding inmates in local prisons.

Sheriff Mike Rainey reportedly received $295,294 from the local, state and federal governments to spend on food for the county’s inmate population. But thanks to the old law, Rainey is entitled to pocket any money left over after he fulfills his responsibility of feeding his inmates.

It’s not hard to imagine how such a system could lead to massive corruption. In 2009, former Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett was himself put behind bars after he admitted to keeping more than $200,000 from the prison’s food budget while the inmates he oversaw were provided with inadequate food.

Remarkably, Bartlett may not have actually broken any laws, a point the Alabama Sheriffs Association made to defend Bartlett during his trial.

Sheriff Rainey, who is calling on the legislature to end the current system in favor of allowing county commissions to oversee the funding, says he has donated most of his potential earnings to charity, upwards of $10,000 so far. He also wants to ensure that inmates are served fresh, healthy food, he told the Montgomery Advertiser:

“Incarceration is punishment. I know some people think you shouldn’t worry about what an inmate eats, but I think it’s a moral issue,” Rainey said. “They’re not getting filet mignon, but they’re certainly not being served green bologna, nor will they be served something like that.”

The Alabama legislature has tried to pass bills before repealing the 1939 law, most recently in 2009, but those bills have failed to advance to the Governor’s desk.