Sheriff’s inmate meal funding request tabled

Published 11:59 pm Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday, county commissioners did not reject a request by Sheriff Dennis Meeks to have the county assume the financial responsibility of feeding county jail inmates. Instead, commissioners agreed to “sit and talk with the sheriff” and look at financial figures to determine “what the commission can and can’t do.”

In March, Meeks said he, along with other sheriffs statewide, hopes to erase a Depression-era law that allows sheriffs to keep any food money not spent on feeding prisoners. Repealing this law would also eliminate the personal financial responsibility for feeding those inmates.

Currently 12 of Alabama’s county 67 county commissions have adopted the measure.

“For years on end, it has been the personal responsibility of the sheriff to feed prisoners,” Meeks said. “If there were shortfalls, that money had to be paid personally by the sheriff. I have, on occasion, gone to my personal savings account to pay for the month’s food. (The practice) has put a hardship on all sheriffs in the state of Alabama — not just me.”

In a previous interview, Meeks said at the beginning of his term he “had to go to the bank and borrow money just to put food in the kitchen to feed inmates.” That figure, he said, was between $15,000 to $20,000, and while there may be an excess of money at the end of each month, that money goes to pay back the loan.

After a question from Monday’s crowd on how the county “can pay for this when it can’t pay its bills,” Meeks explained the process of feeding inmates.

“Each municipality and the state are billed for their prisoners’ meals,” he said. “The feeding of those prisoners is reimbursed. What (the Sheriff’s Association) is asking is that the commission take that money and flow it back into the general fund.”

Locally, Meeks charges municipalities $6.88 per inmate per day for meals. Additionally, the state pays the sheriff $1.75 per day for state inmate meals. Any monies collected and not spent on inmate food is taxable income for the sheriff.

Additionally, he said the commission would be required to provide a staff member for ordering of the food, a position he currently holds.

“There is no dietician in place right now,” he said. “I spoke the other day with Brenda Petty about that.”

Commissioner Carl Turman said commissioners need more information about the matter before making a decision.

“I, personally, would like to sit and talk with the sheriff, but not here,” he said. “We need more information. Make it an open meeting — say this week — so we can see the figures down on paper. Got to see that before we know what we can and can’t do.”

While commissioners agreed with Turman’s proposal to discuss the matter further, no official meeting date was announced by press time.