Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chicken Feed

The national media are reporting that Alabama county sheriff Greg Bartlett supplemented his salary to the tune of $212,000+ over the last three years, by skimping on a state food allowance for prisoners and pocketing the difference.

What's more surprising — and disturbing — is that, as the Times reported yesterday, Alabama state law apparently allows county sheriffs to take home whatever portion of the $1.75 (!) per-prisoner-per-day allowance they don't spend on the prisoners. It's hard to see what legitimate government interest that sort of scheme serves. Taxpayers don't even get a cut of the "savings."

Oh, sure — I suppose I come off like a bleeding-heart liberal, calling as I do for prisoners to get their full seven quarters' worth of daily victuals:

“You’re never going to satisfy any incarcerated individual,” grumbled the head of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, Bobby Timmons. Besides, Mr. Timmons said, “an inmate is not in jail for singing too loud in choir on Sunday.”

I can't say why, but when I try to picture Bobby Timmons in my mind, he looks like a forty-year-old Wilford Brimley, and he's wearing a baseball hat with a bald eagle and the words DON'T RUFFLE THESE FEATHERS on it. Maybe it's the elite liberal media's gratuitous use of the word "grumbled" in conjunction with his testimonial. But Grumbling Bobbby Timmons aside, we don't starve prisoners in this country, and I'd like to know more about a budget provision that seems to serve no other purpose except to incentivize that practice.

As it turns out, there's nothing in the pertinent Alabama statute that allows sheriffs to supplement their salaries with their prisoners' leftover food money:

Food for prisoners in the county jail shall be paid for by the state as follows: There shall be allowed such amount as is actually necessary for food for each prisoner daily, and said amount so allowed shall be $1.75 per capita. In addition to the above amount, there is hereby conditionally appropriated from the General Fund an amount of $1.25 per capita.

If anything, the law reflects the legislature's determination that $1.75 per prisoner is "actually necessary"; you could make an argument that a sheriff can't go below that amount for any reason, much less pocket the savings. Nor are there any regulations on the books that say a sheriff gets the "leftovers" — although § 810-6-3-.67 of the Alabama Administrative Code exempts sheriffs' food purchases from sales tax (every little bit helps, I suppose).

If nothing in the law authorizes sheriffs to underspend and pocket the difference, why are Bartlett's lawyers claiming their client was complying with the law — and why is the New York Times reporting that "Alabama law allowed it?"

No comments:

Post a Comment