Alabama

An Alabama County Votes to End Sheriff Abuse of Jail Food Funds

A sheriff in Etowah County purchased a $740,000 beach house with money intended to feed inmates.

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|||LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS/Newscom
LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS/Newscom

An Alabama sheriff's decision to build a beach house with funds intended for inmates' food exposed a controversial loophole in jail funding. On Tuesday, voters in another Alabama county passed an amendment to reform the practice.

In March, a report indicated Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin purchased a $740,000 beach house in Orange Beach. The beach house included four bedrooms, an in-ground pool, and canal access in a ritzy part of town. Both the beach house and a handful of other properties owned by Entrekin and his wife began to raise questions about finances, considering Entrekin only makes a five-figure annual salary. As it turns out, Entrekin pocketed $750,000 allocated by the government to feed inmates in the Etowah County Jail over three years. Not only is Entrekin entrusted with the money by law, but such a decision to keep the "excess funds" has been widely accepted as legal for decades.

Just an hour away in Cullman County, Sheriff Matt Gentry decried the practice as ruining the reputation of Alabama sheriffs. He instead touted support for the Sheriff's Food Bill, or Local Amendment 1. The amendment sought to add a constitutional protection to make the use of the funds more transparent. Under the amendment, the money would be placed in a public account and all excess funds would go toward law enforcement operations like deputy equipment. The account would also be subject to an audit by the state every two years.

On Tuesday, Cullman voters overwhelmingly passed Local Amendment 1 with a little over 87 percent of the vote.

Though counties like Cullman are making a concious effort to close the loophole, and Entrekin has since lost his bid for reelection, there is still a statewide problem. Several sheriffs have taken advantage of the public funds while similarly maintaining that they are covered under state law. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) took a small step to change the way sheriffs receive public money for inmates' food. Rather than depositing the funds into personal accounts, Ivey directed the state comptroller's office to deposit the funds into official county accounts. Unfortunately, Ivey is limited in making a directive that would prevent sheriffs like Entrekin from using public funds for personal use. Such a change in legislation would need to be carried out by the state legislature.

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17 responses to “An Alabama County Votes to End Sheriff Abuse of Jail Food Funds

  1. Is it a gingerbread house?

  2. Is this “loophole” a real thing?

    1. The same way there’s a “loophole” in the gun laws that allow casual sales of guns without background checks or a “loophole” in the tax laws that allow people to write off charitable contributions. The Old South still carries a lot of the remnants of the old aristocratic/feudal system and part of that is that the Shire Reeve is given an allowance toward feeding the inmates under his care with the proviso that whatever funds are left over he could pocket. Of course, if you remember watching Andy and Aunt Bea, back in the day it wasn’t the Shire Reeve himself feeding the inmates, it was his wife. Whether they raised the food themselves, bought ingredients from the green-grocer or purchased it from neighboring farmers, there were no fast-food restaurants or frozen TV dinners or whatever, the food was home-made from fresh ingredients. The “excess” funds were both meant as a recompense for the cost of preparing the meals as well as encouraging the Shire Reeve’s wife to be a frugal housewife with the food budget.

  3. If it required a law, then it sounds like the funds weren’t being “abused”.

  4. That chow looks rather decent by prison standards.

  5. They keep the money that they don’t spend on food. I bet the Etowah County jail is a great place to lose weight.

    1. Nope. The Etowah county board contracted with a private vendor to provide meals for prisoners in the county jail using funds under the county board’s direct control, leaving the Sheriff with no need to spend any of the state meal money while not depriving the jail inmates of anything at all.

  6. They can’t complain.

    Seriously, if they complain, they get Nutraloaf .

  7. and all excess funds would go toward law enforcement operations like deputy equipment.

    Because that loophole will never be abused.

    1. Yeah, it couldn’t be used to pay down municipal debt, or lower the mill rate, could it?!

      1. To pay down municipal debt? No. It’s state money provided to a COUNTY official. Lowering county debt if they have any maybe.

    2. Is it abuse to buy a tank and/or attack helicopter?

  8. It should be noted that the Sheriff who used the money for a beach house wasn’t taking food out of the prisoners mouths to do so.

    The state money is earmarked for prisoner meals for the county jail, but the county government for that sheriff’s county contracted with a private vendor to supply meals for the county jail prisoners using different funds under the control of the county board. That left the sheriff with no need to spend a dime of the state money for the earmarked official purpose. Add to that, the fact that state law seems to specifically authorize sheriffs to pocket any excess state meal money and you have a windfall for the sheriff.

    1. I completely agree, the sheriff wasn’t doing anything illegal, he wasn’t breaking the letter of the law, but he was certainly violating the spirit and the intent of the law. Nothing you can do from a legal standpoint to punish him, but I can certainly understand the voters asking themselves if they really want the county sheriff to be a sharpster who manipulates the law to his own advantage. Somebody that sketchy might not be the best choice as the top law enforcement officer in the county when somebody more ethical might have returned the funds to the state with an explanation that the funds weren’t needed. More honesty than what’s required for the job is far better than the bare minimum when it comes to law enforcement, and it certainly suggests a lack of judgment if not moral character on the sheriff’s part.

      1. There is another side to that. Perhaps the voters in that county need to ask why the county board decided to spend county tax money to do something that there was already state money earmarked for? Without that, that particular sheriff would not have been able to pocket nearly so much legally.

        1. I think everyone needs to ask why is so much money being stolen from taxpayers and don’t we have state and county auditors who are supposed to be looking out for these kinds of things?

  9. parolees get house as timeshare

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