Judge U. W. Clemon ordered Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett to spend the night at the Talladega Federal Correctional Facility on Jan. 7. Bartlett was charged with contempt of court in a case claiming he did not feed the prisoners properly.
Bartlett had reduced the prisoners' meal portions below what is considered nutritionally adequate. He then pocketed the money he did not spend on their food. Bartlett and all other Alabama sheriffs receive $1.75 a day per inmate. This amount has not changed since 1976.
"I think it is inhumane," said Cate Gilmer, a senior in Communications. "They should get the nutritional value that they need. It is a terrible thing that he is pocketing it."
Since 2006, Bartlett pocketed $212,000 in addition to his annual salary of $64,000. Yet he did it legally. It has been a longtime practice in Alabama dating as far back as 1891 for the sheriffs to pocket the leftover money used to feed the inmates.
Therefore pocketing the money was not what forced Bartlett to eat dinner and breakfast in jail. It was not following a 2001 federal decree requiring sheriffs to feed the inmates a nourishing, well-balanced diet that got him into trouble.
"His portion control had gotten so limited," said Alabama Sheriff Association Executive Director Bobby Timmons.
Bartlett was released the next day after meeting with his attorneys and Timmons the night before to come up with a solution. He emailed the judge a list of conditions he would change, including putting all of the $1.75 per inmate toward actually feeding the prisoners and following the USDA food pyramid guidelines.
Forty-seven of the 66 sheriffs in Alabama met with Timmons on Jan. 13 to vent about the situation with Bartlett and discuss conditions that need to be agreed upon if a bill is to be introduced.
In regards to a bill being passed, Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said, "I think it's one of those issues that might be problematic."
Timmons said he is researching and studying now how to come up with a happy medium. He suggested using a circuit judge's salary as a guideline for deciding on a sheriff's salary. Circuit judges on average make $119,000 a year while sheriffs on average make $50,000 a year.
"Once you take away the surplus, his (the sheriff's) salary isn't adequate to the job he's doing," Timmons said.
Timmons also mentioned the possibility of the county commission taking over the inmate-feeding fund but said they have not wanted it. The county commission would have to buy the food at the market price. Sheriffs are not required to follow that same bid law.
"Somebody's going to have to feed the inmates," Timmons said. "Somebody's going to have to pay the grocery bill. But the legislature has never seen fit to justify the feeding."
Jones said it is a huge responsibility on the sheriffs' shoulders and they must be effective managers.
"I have no criticism of Bartlett," Jones said. "Regardless of circumstances, it brings to light the fact that prisoners must be treated fairly and humanly. That's the bottom line."
The one complaint Jones said he hears more often than any other from prisoners is that they don't like being in jail. Bartlett can attest to that.
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