Friday, January 9, 2009

Dickens in Alabama

I know this post has nothing to do with California Corrections, but I could not resist the temptation to write a few words about this NY Times piece, which tells a tale best relegated to Dickens novels.

DECATUR, Ala. — The prisoners in the Morgan County jail here were always hungry. The sheriff, meanwhile, was getting a little richer. Alabama law allowed it: the chief lawman could go light on prisoners’ meals and pocket the leftover change.

And that is just what the sheriff, Greg Bartlett, did, to the tune of $212,000 over the last three years, despite a state food allowance of only $1.75 per prisoner per day.

In the view of a federal judge, who heard testimony from the hungry inmates, the sheriff was in “blatant” violation of past agreements that his prisoners be properly cared for.

“There was undisputed evidence that most of the inmates had lost significant weight,” the judge, U. W. Clemon of Federal District Court in Birmingham, said Thursday in an interview. “I could not ignore them.”

So this week, Judge Clemon ordered Sheriff Bartlett himself jailed until he came up with a plan to adequately feed prisoners more, anyway, than a few spoonfuls of grits, part of an egg and a piece of toast at breakfast, and bits of undercooked, bloody chicken at supper.

The really shocking bit, though, is that this travesty is supported by Alabama law:

An unusual statute here dating from the early decades of the 20th century allows the state’s sheriffs to keep for themselves whatever money is left over after they feed their prisoners. The money allotted by the state is little enough — $1.75 a day per prisoner — but the incentive to skimp is obvious.

What can I say? Words fail me. Hard, Bleak times.

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