DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — Voters in two Alabama counties ended the longtime practice of letting sheriffs pocket whatever profits they can generate from feeding prisoners as cheaply as possible.
Morgan County and Cullman County overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments to ban the practice in balloting Tuesday.
The measures were strictly local and won’t affect other counties. That means many other sheriffs can continue feeding prisoners for what is sometimes just pennies a day and keeping leftover public funds provided by the state.
A federal judge jailed a former Morgan County sheriff after ruling the practice led to inadequate nutrition for prisoners, and another judge forced the current sheriff to repay some food money last year.
Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry said the practice created a “stigma” and he supported putting the issue to voters.
“In some areas, there is a lot of truth to sheriffs making money off of food. We do it 100 percent right here, but you can never get away from that stigma,” he said. “I personally want to be talking about more important issues: How can we make our children safer? How can we make our communities better? This way, it puts the matter to rest once and for all — and it was the people’s voice that was heard.”
The sheriff in Etowah County, Todd Entrekin, lost his Republican primary earlier this year following reports linking food profits and a condominium he and his wife purchased last year for $740,000.
While denying doing anything wrong, Entrekin released tax forms showing he made a profit of $672,392 from the jail kitchen in 2015 and 2016.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey moved to end the practice of sheriff’s keeping jail profits, but advocacy groups said the controversial practice will not stop unless lawmakers change state law. Legislation to address the situation could be offered next year, officials have said.