Federal judge finds Morgan County sheriff in contempt, resolves issue with fine

Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin

MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. – A federal judge has accepted a proposed settlement in an ongoing dispute over the use of money to feed inmates in the Morgan County jail. The settlement states Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin is, in fact, held in contempt of court, but it also allows her to resolve the issue with a $1,000 fine.

The judge found Franklin in contempt for taking $150,000 from the inmate meal fund and investing it in a car dealership, which later went bankrupt.

Franklin admitted taking $160,000 from the prisoner meals budget in June 2015 and investing $150,000 in the car dealership. She returned the bulk of the money in December 2016 and the remainder in February.

A 2009 federal court order required the then-Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett — who’d been jailed for contempt after feeding inmates corn dogs three meals a day for month —  to use all jail funds earmarked for food on healthy, nutritious meals. Alabama law allows sheriffs to pocket money leftover from their jail food budget each year. But the court order barred that in Morgan County.

Franklin’s lawyers had argued she thought the order only applied to Bartlett, but the court disagreed. Franklin had also argued inmates were served proper meals and that there was no indication her removal of the funds harmed any inmates.

U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s order this morning followed a complaint filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights, which monitors jail conditions under the federal decree.  The two sides had asked the court Tuesday to agree to the settlement, which also includes a $5,000 payment to the Center for the work it had done investigating the inmate meal program.

Judge Kallon also ended the consent order governing the use of jail foods for inmate meals, as Franklin requested.

The consent order reads:

“The Sheriff of Morgan County shall immediately establish and implement a procedure whereby all funds provided by any source for the feeding of inmates, including funds from the State of Alabama, any municipality, and the federal government, will be used exclusively for the feeding of inmates incarcerated in the Morgan County Detention Facility. For any year in which there is a shortfall in funds to provide meals for inmates in the County Jail, the Sheriff will not be responsible for the shortfall in funds.”

In today’s opinion, Kallon wrote, “The parties agree that the foregoing provision is no longer required because counsel for Plaintiffs concede that they cannot demonstrate that the provision ‘remains necessary to correct a current and ongoing violation …'”