Alabama Moves To Limit Sheriffs From Pocketing Jail Food Money

A later sheriff in Morgan County used unspent jail-food money to invest $150,000 in a used-car dealership.

And this year, when the Alabama Media Group described the Etowah County sheriff’s handling of leftover food money, it reported that he had purchased a beach house for $740,000. The sheriff, who said he was acting in accordance with state law and angrily denied wrongdoing, was defeated last month in a primary. He did not respond to a message on Wednesday.

Ms. Ivey, a former state treasurer who became governor last year, said in her memorandum to the comptroller that “recent events brought this policy to my attention,” and she asked the Legislature to consider changing the wording of the Depression-era statute that sheriffs have relied on to justify their retention of the jail food money.

The governor’s lawyers acknowledged in an internal review that state attorneys general in Alabama had reached conflicting conclusions about the leftover funds.

One, Troy King, ruled in a 2008 opinion that a “sheriff may retain any surplus from the food service allowance as personal income” and noted that “most of the sheriffs in the state have retained the food and service allowances for personal income for years.” Mr. King, who left office in 2011, is running for attorney general again this year; he is competing in the Republican primary runoff on July 17. He was not available for comment on Wednesday.

In the last two decades, though, two other attorneys general have reached the opposite view, that sheriffs were not entitled to excess food money. In the more recent opinion, in 2011, Luther Strange said that “neither the sheriff nor the county may use the surplus for any purpose other than future expenses in feeding prisoners.”

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