By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. –
Governor Kay Ivey took action Wednesday to to ensure funds from Alabama prison food services shall no longer be considered personal income for sheriffs and will only be used for public purposes.
Ivey says she wants the Alabama Legislature to codify this policy into law during the next regular session.
Sheriffs using taxpayer funded jail food money for personal income may seem like a shocking shocking practice, but it has apparently been going on for at least a couple decades now and could possibly allowing millions of dollars to be pocketed by the sheriffs according to the New York Times.
The story blew up in Alabama when AL.com reporter Connor Sheets uncovered that Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin took in more than $750,000 from the inmate food fund and subsequently bought a beach house.
Ivey ordered the State Comptroller Bob Childree to rescind its policy of paying the prisoner food service allowance to sheriffs as personal income—a policy Ivey said relied on an outdated 2008 advisory opinion of then-Attorney General Troy King that has been superseded. That opinion said that a statute allowing sheriffs to “keep and retain” surplus funds from the prisoner food service allowance should be interpreted as allowing sheriffs to treat the funds as personal income rather than retaining it in their office for the public purpose of feeding prisoners.
The debate over what the meaning of “keep and retain” has been going on at least since 2000 when then-Attorney General Bill Pryor declared that “funds should be retained in the sheriff’s office” and not with the sheriff personally, a memorandum from the Governor’s legal office said.
Next came King in 2008, who reversed against Pryor’s decision. But in 2011 then-Attorney General Luther Strange decided to side with Pryor and said the funds should only be used to feed prisoners.
The Governor’s legal counsel memorandum continued to explain that no provision in the section 14-6-43 of the Code of Alabama expressly authorizes that the funds be disbursed to the sheriffs as personal income or for any purposes other than feeding the prisoners.
The way that Childree decided to pay the sheriffs in accordance to King’s 2008 opinion was that two separate checks would be issued to the sheriffs for each food bill submitted.
One check goes to the county for the actual food the prison needs to order and then a second check to the sheriff in his or her personal capacity for the various services needed to prepare and serve the food.
What is odd is how this practice of paying the sheriffs was still allowed to continue even after Luther Strange’s 2011 opinion to stop doing such practices should have overruled King’s decision, but clearly, that has not been the case until now.
The reason Ivey released a statement about the prison food money system now is because of “recent events” that brought her attention to the problem. Recent events being the Entrekin Etowah County case.
Governor Ivey is decreeing that the comptroller no longer pay the food service allowance to the sheriff’s personal income attached to their social security numbers. Now that Ivey is urging the legislator to change the code once they are in session, hopefully the ambiguity over this small phrase can be cleaned up soon.
“I have changed the way these funds are handled because it is the right thing to do. The law is clear, the Attorney General’s Opinion is clear, and now I have been clear,” said Ivey.