(CNN) -- A federal judge ordered a north Alabama sheriff jailed this week, saying the lawman intentionally served jail inmates "woefully insufficient" meals in order to pocket more than $200,000.
Morgan County, Alabama, Sheriff Greg Bartlett was ordered to jail Wednesday by U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon in Birmingham.
After a Wednesday hearing, Clemon found Bartlett in contempt of court, saying he had failed to comply with an consent decree in the 2001lawsuit regarding conditions at the Morgan County Jail, according todocuments filed in the case.
Clemon ordered Bartlett releasedfrom the federal Talladega Correctional Facility the following dayafter the sheriff's attorneys pledged to provide better and healthiermeals to inmates.
At issue is an Alabama law that attorneys forthe inmates claim provides sheriffs with an incentive to skimp onfeeding inmates. Under the law, sheriffs are permitted to keep -- aspersonal income -- money left over after purchasing food for inmates.
The state provides sheriffs with $1.75 per day per inmate for food,according to the Alabama Attorney General's Office. However, in a March2008 opinion, the office affirmed that sheriffs may legally keep whatis left over.
"There is no minimum amount of money that theSheriff must spend on food," said court documents filed by MelanieVelez, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights,representing the inmates. "Statutory permission to pocket the state'sfood subsidy does not, however, make it acceptable for the Sheriff toprovide less than an adequate amount of food to detainees at the jail."
Calls to Velez and Bartlett's attorney, Donald Rhea, on Friday were notimmediately returned. The Morgan County Sheriff's Office said that anews conference was planned for Friday afternoon and that a statementcould be issued.
A consent decree filed in September 2001 with the court requires Bartlett to serve "a nutritionally adequate diet" to inmates.
However, Clemon wrote in court documents that a typical breakfast forcounty inmates was a serving of grits or unsweetened oatmeal; half anegg or less, sometimes cold; a slice of white bread; and unsweetenedtea or a beverage such as Kool-Aid.
Lunch was either two peanutbutter or bologna sandwiches, "with a small amount of peanut butter oran exceedingly thin" slice of bologna between two slices of whitebread; a small bag of corn chips; and flavored water or unsweetenedtea.
A typical dinner was two hot dogs or meat patties; a slice of bread; and mixed vegetables or baked beans, the judge wrote.
At times, when chicken was served, it was undercooked and pink, Clemonsaid. Salt, pepper, sugar or other condiments were not provided; theymust be purchased by inmates at the jail store.
Inmates never receive milk, Clemon said, and receive fruit only three or four times a year.
The portions, Clemon wrote, are "woefully insufficient to satisfy thenormal appetites of adult males. After eating each meal served by theJail staff, the inmates remain hungry. Some inmates complain ofrecurring hunger pains." Many inmates have lost weight, he said, someof them as much as 50 pounds.
Inmates complain that they getenough food only by buying more at the jail store, the judge said,noting that some have spent as much as $100 there.
In 2007, thejudge said, Bartlett and the sheriff of a neighboring county both paid$500 for half a tractor-trailer full of hot dogs. "They were served tothe inmates at each meal until they had been depleted," Clemon wrote.Other inmate food was donated in bulk by schools and other locations,and the sheriff did not pay for it, the judge said.
Meanwhile,since he took office in 2003, "Sheriff Bartlett has deposited in excessof $200,000 to his personal account from the funds allocated to him bythe State of Alabama and the federal government for the feeding ofinmates," Clemon wrote. Last year, Bartlett made $95,000, the judgesaid.
"Sheriff Bartlett admits that he could double the foodportions served to inmates of the Morgan County jail withoutsignificantly increasing his food expenditures," Clemon wrote.
"The court finds by clear and convincing evidence that Sheriff GregBartlett has converted to his personal use and benefit state andfederal funds allocated for the feeding" of prisoners.
In anorder filed Friday, Clemon noted that the sheriff, through hisattorney, has pledged to use all state and federal funds for feedinginmates in the future, and that "fresh fruit, fresh milk, vegetablesand whole grains will be a regular part of the monthly menu."
Daily meals will follow the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid, Clemon said, and condiments will be provided.
In a similar case in south Alabama,Mobile County Sheriff Jack Tillman pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors,perjury and an ethics offense, and resigned in 2006, agreeing to repaysome of the $13,000 he shifted from a jail "food fund" to his personalretirement account, according to the Mobile newspaper Lagniappe.