DECATUR, Ala. - Alabama Senator Arthur Orr wants to sponsor a statewide bill to stop sheriffs from pocketing jail funds.
WHNT News 19 has been following the issue for years. Alabama law allows sheriffs to retain surplus money from their inmate food budgets.
Orr, R-Decatur, said he will sponsor a bill that would change that state law so sheriffs can't do that anymore. Morgan County voters recently overwhelmingly approved an amendment that would keep jail food funding in a separate account to be used only for that purpose.
Orr wants to take the same idea statewide, creating a more shared responsibility for feeding inmates.
"This coming session, I will have a statewide bill for all the other counties that are still under the old system and try to literally thread the needle between the sheriffs and the county commissions and the prisoners themselves," he said.
The question has often been whether certain sheriffs are inadequately feeding inmates in order to be able to pocket more food funds each year.
Orr also wants to address another piece of that pie: how much money is needed per day to properly feed inmates?
"It would make sure $1.75 is adequate to feed a human being for a full day in a county jail in Alabama," he stated. "That probably needs to be increased."
Two former Alabama sheriffs are in hot water over allegations that they spent public jail food money that was provided by the state to be used to feed inmates. Former Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin admitted using $150,000 of jail food funds for a personal investment. She said she replaced the money, but recently pleaded guilty to a related federal charge of not filing a tax return.
Our news partner The Huntsville Times/Al.com reported that former Etowah County Sheriff, Todd Entrekin, and his wife purchased a $740,000 beach house after pocketing more than $750,000 of additional compensation for food.
"The public is very much desirous to get this issue settled," Sen. Orr said.
This past August, Gov. Kay Ivey sought to temporarily end the practice through the state comptroller's office. An affidavit that county sheriffs were to sign, included language that sheriffs would agree to spend jail food funds only on feeding prisoners.
Orr called that a stop-gap measure and said he wants to clarify the language in the law as a whole. He said to make it permanent, it needed to be written into Alabama code by a vote of the legislature.
Orr said he had tried for something like this before and it didn't work out. But now he thinks the appetite is changing.
"The sheriff in Etowah County and the beach house really garnered a lot of public attention and woke people up," Orr said. "They just don't like the current system. So I think the mood is to change what we have and settle it once and for all," he said.
Orr said his bill is still being drafted and vetted from all sides, through the sheriffs, county commissions, and jails.