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Committee approves plan to reform how inmates at county jails are fed

Jail cells with the doors closed at a histororic idaho prison

The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee gave a favorable report to a Senate bill that reforms the process by which prisoners in county jails are fed.

Senate Bill 228 is sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

The bill is being carried in the Alabama House of Representatives by Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, and has the support of the Alabama Sheriffs Association.

Reynolds said he applauds the Sheriffs Association for supporting this legislation.

The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee is chaired by Steve Clouse, R-Ozark.

“Thank you Rep. Reynolds for leading the way on this,” Clouse said. “Once we get this in effect we can address it like a line item based on what our needs are.”

“We will continue to work with our sheriffs,” Reynolds said.

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SB228 as amended by the committee received a favorable report with unanimous.

SB228 repealed sections of the Code of Alabama related to the feeding of prisoners in the county jail. It increases the allowance paid by the state. The bill establishes a Prisoner Feeding Fund in each county sheriff’s office. It makes a continuing appropriation from the State General Fund commencing Oct. 1, 2019, and thereafter to be used for emergency costs overruns in the counties.

The bill stipulates that “the feeding of prisoners shall be paid for from funds as provided in Section 14-6-42. In no event shall the sheriff be personally responsible for the cost of feeding prisoners or any shortage in the funds provided for that purpose.”

“Payments made by the state pursuant to this section to the office of the sheriff shall be deposited in a separate account designated the Prisoner Feeding Fund established in Section 14-6-47. The sheriff shall maintain records of all payments received and all expenditures made from the Prisoner Feeding Fund, which shall be subject to regular audit by the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts.”

Last year, reporting of certain sheriffs pocketing the savings in their prisoner’s food allowance generated some headlines for the sheriffs and the state, particularly in Etowah County where the policy became a GOP primary issue that contributed to Sheriff Todd Entrekin’s defeat. This bill reforms the feeding of prisoners policy so that money for feeding the prisoners is not considered to be the personal money of the sheriff.

Reynolds said if there is any surplus food money, it is to be used on law enforcement needs.

The bill prohibits sheriffs from expending more than 25 percent of the unencumbered balance of the Prisoner Feeding Fund for jail operations or law enforcement purposes related to the operation of the office of sheriff, provides that funds are not authorized for personal income for any public official or employee and provides that monies deposited into the fund are public funds and any unexpended monies in the fund at the end of the term of sheriff shall remain in the fund to be expended by the office of sheriff.

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According to the fiscal note, if this passes it will cost the general fund $900,000 in fiscal year 2019 and $2.4 million in fiscal year 2020. There is a 1.5 percent annual increase

SB228 could be considered by the House of Representatives as soon as Tuesday.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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