Groups Call for Investigation into Potential Violations of Federal Law By Alabama Sheriffs with Federal Detention Contracts Who Convert Jail Food Funds to Personal Use

17th October, 2018

US Atty Letter Header

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 17, 2018

 

Media Contacts:  Aaron Littman, Southern Center for Human Rights, (404) 688-1202, [email protected]

Frank Knaack, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, (334) 263-0086, [email protected]

 

GROUPS CALL FOR INVESTIGATION INTO POTENTIAL VIOLATIONS OF FEDERAL LAW

BY ALABAMA SHERIFFS WITH FEDERAL DETENTION CONTRACTS

WHO CONVERT JAIL FOOD FUNDS TO PERSONAL USE

 

(Montgomery, AL) -- In a letter sent yesterday to the United States Attorneys for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Alabama, the Southern Center for Human Rights, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Adelante Alabama Worker Center, the American Conservative Union, and FreedomWorks urged an investigation into Alabama sheriffs with federal detention contracts who have personally pocketed substantial amounts of taxpayer money from jail food accounts, in likely violation of federal law.

Many sheriffs in Alabama contend that state law permits them to keep funds allocated to feed people housed in their jails for their own personal profit, and some have taken tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use. This interpretation of Alabama law has, however, been rejected by the Attorney General and the current Governor of Alabama. A number of these sheriffs house federal detainees (either defendants in federal criminal cases or immigrants facing deportation) in their county jails, pursuant to contracts with the United States Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Sheriffs with lucrative federal detention contracts have the potential to profit especially handsomely from this practice, and there is reason to believe that some have pocketed these federal funds for personal use.

In Monroe County, Alabama, for example, the per capita reimbursement rate for feeding state prisoners is $1.80 per day. For federal prisoners, it is over five times higher: $10 per day. In 2016, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office received a total of $26,710.80 in food funds from the State of Alabama, $5,505.00 in food funds from municipal contracts, and $108,620.00 in food funds from the federal detention contract. On December 30, 2016, the sheriff “declared excess and paid to” himself $44,402.77 – over $12,000 more than the total amount he had received from state and municipal sources, combined.

“The law is clear, and Governor Ivey has made clear: jail food funds are public funds, and should be used exclusively for feeding incarcerated people,” said Aaron Littman, staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights. “Because these sheriffs have refused to disclose to the public how much taxpayer money they have taken, further investigation is urgently required to determine whether they are violating federal criminal and contracting law.”

“Diverting funds provided to feed prisoners is not only unethical, it is likely illegal,” said David Safavian, general counsel of the American Conservative Union. “A fundamental requirement of federal contractors is to use the money for the purposes for which it was given. In this case, the avarice of some Alabama sheriffs doesn't pass the smell test. The stench should be investigated by those charged with protecting America's taxpayers.”

When limited food funds are misappropriated by sheriffs, the health and safety of the people incarcerated in their jails is jeopardized. Recent media coverage of the food served at the Etowah County Detention Center included reports that inmates are frequently served meat packaged in wrapping that says “Not Fit For Human Consumption,” and donated chicken that is rotten and riddled with “tumors and abscesses and deformities.”

“It appears that some sheriffs have placed personal profit above their sworn duty to meet the basic needs of those in their care,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed. “We are deeply concerned that those charged with enforcing our laws are instead breaking them. No one is above the law – this includes Alabama’s sheriffs.”

“The people in these sheriffs’ custody are human beings, not abstract profit margins,” said Jessica Vosburgh, executive and legal director of Adelante. “As long as their jailers see each person behind bars as an opportunity to reap additional profits with impunity, the incentives to cut corners in ways that threaten these individuals’ basic safety will abound. Taxpayers will ultimately foot the bill with our wallets, and detained persons with their health, their wellbeing, and sometimes even their lives.”

The letter can be found at www.schr.org/files/post/files/usattyletter.pdf.

 

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The Southern Center for Human Rights is working for equality, justice, and dignity in our criminal justice system. The mission of the Southern Center is to end capital punishment, mass incarceration, and other criminal justice practices that are used to control the lives of poor people, people of color, and other marginalized groups in the Southern United States. This is done through death penalty representation, impact litigation, policy advocacy, and public education. For more information, visit www.schr.org.

Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1999 whose mission is to work to achieve justice and equity for all Alabamians. Alabama Appleseed is a member of the national Appleseed Network, which includes 18 Appleseed Centers across the U.S. and in Mexico City. Alabama Appleseed is also a member of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law's Legal Impact Network, a collaborative of 36 advocacy organizations from across the country working with communities to end poverty and achieve racial justice at the federal, state, and local levels. For more information, visit www.alabamaappleseed.org.

Adelante Alabama Worker Center unites low-wage and immigrant workers and their families in the Birmingham area to defend their rights, promote their dignity, and pursue justice for all. Adelante is a member of the Shut Down Etowah campaign, a collective of civil and immigrants’ rights organizations and individuals working to expose human rights abuses at the Etowah County Detention Center. For more information, visit www.adelantealabama.org and www.shutdownetowah.org.

The American Conservative Union is the nation’s oldest conservative grassroots organization and seeks to preserve and protect the values of life, liberty, and property for every American. For more information, visit www.conservative.org.

FreedomWorks exists to build, educate, and mobilize the largest network of activists advocating the principles of smaller government, lower taxes, free markets, personal liberty and the rule of law. For more information, visit www.freedomworks.org.