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Food & Hunger

An Alabama Sheriff Used Inmate Food Funds for His $1.7 Million Beach House

An elected sheriff in Alabama has taken more than $750,000 from a fund to feed jail inmates and used the money finance his own, personal beach house — but, he told, that’s all perfectly legal.

For the last three years, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin has received more than $750,000 worth of additional "compensation" from a source he identified as "Food Provisions” on ethics disclosure forms, reports.

Federal, state, and municipal agencies allocated the money to feed inmates in the county jail, not for the sheriff to buy a beachfront property. But Entrekin told his personal use of taxpayer money follows existing state law.

According to Entrekin, the law stipulates that as long as inmates receive food, sheriffs can keep excess money in the food fund.  

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“As you should be aware, Alabama law is clear as to my personal financial responsibilities in the feeding of inmates," Entrekin said in an email to "Regardless of one's opinion of this statute, until the legislature acts otherwise, the sheriff must follow the current law."

Though Alabama’s ethics commission has not penalized Entrekin for his appropriation of food funding, Entrekin’s challenger in this year’s election for sheriff has made the issue a big part of his campaign.

"I believe the funds belong to the taxpayers and any excess funds should go toward things that benefit the taxpayer,” Jonathon Horton, the police chief in Rainbow City, Alabama, told "There's been a tremendous amount of money left over that shouldn't be used as a bonus check."

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Throughout the US, jails and prisons provide paltry meals and inadequate nutrition to inmates — often with little oversight.

In Gordon County, Georgia, inmates are served just two meals a day, up to 14 hours apart, according to the Marshall Project. In Morgan County, Alabama, where another sheriff diverted more than $200,000 from a jail food fund to his private account, inmates’ tiny meals cost less than 60 cents per serving.

Global Citizen campaigns on ensuring all people, including individuals inside jails and prison, have access to adequate, healthy food. You can take action on this issue here.

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But Entrekin did not stop at using the money to purchase his $1.7 million beach house, the New York Daily News reports.

One Etowah County resident said Entrekin paid him to mow his lawn using a check labeled “Sheriff Todd Entrekin Food Provision Account”

"I saw that in the corner of the checks it said 'Food Provision,' and a couple people I knew came through the jail, and they say they got meat maybe once a month and every other day it was just beans and vegetables," resident Matthew Qualls said.

All that money could have gone to providing healthier and more substantial meals to inmates, a key provision of the the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ report on prisoner rights. The UN states that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall have the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food.”

But across the US, prison reform advocates and local leaders say that stripping food provisions to the most basic level is a violation of the human right to adequate nutrition.

In many states, including Alabama, jails and prisons contract with private companies, which cut prisoner food provisions in order to save money and horde profits.

“They are the biggest benefactors of prisoners,” Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, a spokesman for the Free Alabama Movement opposing privatization in prisons, told PBS. “And they have a history of neglecting prisoners, serving bad food, not enough food, or undernourished food. [And] this is why we have chosen to boycott.”