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A lawsuit against 49 sheriffs in Alabama is asking them to hand over personal documents to see if, and by how much, they have profited off of feeding inmates.
Six North Alabama sheriff's are on the lawsuit filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. Those counties and sheriffs include: Frank Williamson (Colbert County), Shannon Oliver (Franklin County), Rick Singleton (Lauderdale County), Gene Mitchell (Lawrence County), Scott Walls (Marshall County), and Chuck Phillips (Jackson County).
WAAY 31 spoke with all of the sheriffs in the Shoals who said they had to take out personal loans just to make sure inmates were properly fed. Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson gave WAAY 31 a tour of their jail kitchen and a look at the food inmates eat.
Williamson said his inmates eat pretty well -- getting meals of mashed potatoes, Salisbury steak, hot dogs, hamburgers, beans, turkey bacon and eggs. When Williamson took office, he worked with a dietician to help develop a meal plan for inmates. Each meal costs about $1.60 - $1.65 and inmates are fed 3 times a day. They typically spend around $1,500 a week on meals for inmates.
"The state gives us $1.75 a day for three meals and that's all we get," said Williamson.
Because they wouldn't have enough money to pay for inmates meals off of $1.75 a day from the state the sheriff had to take out a $10,000 loan to make up the difference. Lauderdale and Franklin County sheriffs also had to do the same when they took office.
"I had to borrow money to do this on my own personal social security number and I still owe money on that," said Williamson.
It's that personal loan and other financial records that's at the core of the lawsuit against the 49 Alabama sheriffs. The lawsuit states these sheriffs, including Williamson, have violated the Alabama Public Records Law by failing to turn over their personal financial records to see if they are profiting off feeding inmates.
"I don't mind them having what the state pays me and what I pay out, but the personal side of it, unless a judge tells me, I am not going to divulge that. It's not like I get anything off it. The only thing I am doing is paying a loan back," said Williamson.
Under Alabama state law sheriffs can keep any left over money from feeding inmates. The Southern Center for Human Rights said this “creates a perverse incentive to spend as little as possible on feeding people who are in jail.”
Williamson tells us if they ever have extra money it goes to pay off the $4,000 he still owes on the personal loan. Williamson said sometimes people donate food and that helps him save money for the loan payment.
"I put that on top of what they are getting. We don't try to hold back on anything," said Williamson.
Lauderdale and Franklin County sheriffs said they have paid off their personal loans used to feed inmates. They both said if they ever have left over money they put it back as a cushion in their food fund.