Groups sue, aim to learn if sheriffs profit from jail food

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Two advocacy groups say they have sued Alabama sheriffs seeking records about whether they have personally profited from jailhouse food programs.

The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice announced the lawsuit Monday against 49 sheriffs they said did not comply with a public records request seeking information about the food programs.

A state law says state sheriffs can “keep and retain” leftover food money and some sheriffs have kept the money as income. A federal judge in 2009 found that a sheriff — who got the nickname “Sheriff Corndog” for feeding corndogs two or more times a day— had inadequately fed inmates and ordered him jailed for a day in contempt of court.

Aaron Littman, a staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, said the “archaic system is based on a dubious interpretation of state law.” The money is supposed to be used, he argued, for official purposes.

“It also raises grave ethical concerns, invites public corruption, and creates a perverse incentive to spend as little as possible on feeding people who are in jail,” Littman said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

Bobby Timmons, the executive director of the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The groups said they asked sheriffs to provide information about the jail feeding program but received limited responses. The lawsuit, filed in Hale County Circuit Court, asks a judge to order the sheriffs to turn over the requested documents.

Alabama Appleseed executive director Frank Knaack said the public has a right to know whether sheriffs “are meeting the basic human needs of incarcerated people in their care, or are instead filling their personal coffers.”