Cutting the jail budget isn't so hard after all

Sheriff Greg Bartlett who was in charge of the Morgan County, Alabama jail found a creative way to cut the facility's budget: Stop feeding the inmates.

The jail had a budget of $1.75 a day to feed each prisoner, but the sheriff decided cost-cutting measures were in order. He decided to feed them even less than what that budget provided, and he kept the savings for himself. It is estimated that he pocketed $212,000 over the last three years this way. An Alabama law apparently allows the sheriff to keep the savings from the food budget, but obviously it's ridiculous for the sheriff to purposely underfeed the inmates in order to line his own pockets.

And while I don't think jail inmates deserve to live in the lap of luxury and be entertained at taxpayer expense, I'm all in favor of actually feeding them. The prisoners have apparently lost a lot of weight, and they're saying that they were constantly hungry.

Contrast this with the story of the Montague County, Texas jail, where the sheriff and deputies were letting inmates run things themselves. They could lock their own cells from the inside, had disabled security measures like surveillance cameras, and appear to have had access to contraband.
Can't we find a happy medium? Aren't jails supposed to be a place which is secure, with adequate rules, where inmates can be safely detained (and possibly taught a lesson or two)? Why must the sheriffs go to such extremes?

The inmate-starving sheriff was thrown in jail for a day, but was released when he gave a judge a plan for feeding the inmates more. Sheriff Bartlett now promises that he'll spend all the food money on food instead of pocketing it. Frankly, that's not good enough for me. The first step should have been to keep the sheriff in jail for a month or two, and feed him exactly what he was giving his inmates.

And he should lose his job. The guy has stolen from taxpayers by abusing the law, and he has mistreated those under his control, who have no way out. I have no confidence that he will do the right thing.

Further, what type of message does this send to the prisoners, the very people we're hoping will learn a lesson and not commit crimes in the future? They're being taught that crime pays.... You get to keep your job and have little in the way of consequences. I think it's time for a little tough love for Sheriff Bartlett.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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