Monday, January 12, 2009

Alabama Justice

I know that lots of state codes have weird provisions dating from prior centuries that people sometimes exploit. But who would have thought that making a profit on inmates was ever a good idea, even in Alabama (via TalkLeft)?

The prisoners in the Morgan County jail here were always hungry. The sheriff, meanwhile, was getting a little richer. Alabama law allowed it: the chief lawman could go light on prisoners’ meals and pocket the leftover change.

And that is just what the sheriff, Greg Bartlett, did, to the tune of $212,000 over the last three years, despite a state food allowance of only $1.75 per prisoner per day.
A long time back, magistrates and other judges in some states got a monetary reward for every search or arrest warrant they issued. The Supreme Court held that such practices violated the Fourth Amendment, as the financial incentive to issue the warrants meant the judge was not a "neutral and detached magistrate" as the Fourth required. A similar perverse incentive is obvious in this situation.

Years ago, a federal judge presided over a lawsuit against Bartlett over the meager provisions given his charges. The suit resulted in an agreement that Bartlett would improve conditions. He didn't, and the judge sent him to jail for contempt. It only took one day for Bartlett (probably not in his own jail, alas) to come up with the logical solution - spend all of the state's generous per diem on feeding people.

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