I’m not sure what’s more troublesome here: the fact that Alabama allows county sheriffs to profit from serving meals in their jails, or that it allocates a mere $1.75 per diem to feed them in the first place:
A northern Alabama sheriff was in federal custody Thursday after a judge ruled he purposely fed inmates skimpy meals so he could make money from an unusual system that lets sheriffs turn a profit on their jail kitchens.
Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett testified at a Wednesday court hearing that he made $212,000 over three years by cheaply feeding prisoners – every cent of it legal under a Depression-era state law and reported on his tax forms as income.
The $1.75 allotment has apparently not changed since the law was originally passed in 1927; at the time, Alabama’s criminal justice system consisted predominantly of chain-gang labor, and I suspect the $1.75 was intended to cover all the expenses that a sheriff might incur on the job. Still, adjusting very roughly for inflation, that original allowance would amount to about $25-27 in 2009 dollars, which is considerably more than the $13 per diem that sheriffs like Bartlett receive today. Of course, Bartlett also earned a $64,000 salary in addition to the ~$90,000 he was skimming from the meal accounts.
The best footnote to the whole story is that the $1.75 is deposited directly into the personal bank accounts of the sheriffs operating under this plan (which is used in about 5/6 of the states counties). So no one really knows exactly how much each jail is spending on food, nor do they know as a matter of course how much anyone is actually earning beyond their salary. Nice work, Alabama!
Not that I can’t empathize with Bartlett’s avarice. If the state of Alaska were to adopt this payment scheme for higher education, I would probably blow off teaching altogether and just have my students read Conservapedia’s US history lectures instead.