An unusual statute here dating from the early decades of the 20th century allows the state’s sheriffs to keep for themselves whatever money is left over after they feed their prisoners. The money allotted by the state is little enough — $1.75 a day per prisoner — but the incentive to skimp is obvious.Now, that is a bizarre statute, giving the sheriffs a self-interest in underfeeding the prisoners and using the cheapest food items. And the prisoners went to federal court, saying they'd been losing weight.
It's not until the 5th paragraph of the story that we see the startling fact that the federal judge in the case — U. W. Clemon — sent Bartlett to jail to come up with a new meal plan.
The judge expressed no regret about sending Mr. Bartlett to jail. The Alabama law is “almost an invitation to criminality,” he said in the interview. Sheriffs, he said, “have a direct pecuniary interest in not feeding inmates.”Is the statute constitutional or not? If it is, strike it down and move forward. Whether it is or not, Barlett didn't make the statute, nor was he charged with a crime. Isn't it shocking that he should be sent to jail over this? The premise for sending him to jail is a previously existing consent decree. Presumably, the judge held him in contempt for violating it. Why was such harsh treatment required? Out of shock that the prisoners were treated so badly?
How badly were they treated? There were 300 prisoners, and Barlett pocketed $212,000 in 3 years, so I calculate that Barlett was spending $1.10 a day for each prisoner. If you were buying food in bulk, could you provide adequate nutrition at that rate? I'd like to see the details — of the consent decree and the menus.
With precision and some wonder, Judge U.W. Clemon, who is retiring shortly, recounted a typical inmate lunch here: “Two peanut butter sandwiches, with small amounts of peanut butter, chips, and flavored water.” Hunger pains were not uncommon.Hunger pains — not "pangs," but pains — after a lunch of 2 peanut butter sandwiches and chips? Could this news story be written with a little more neutrality?
“Given the testimony about the fairly blatant violations of the consent decree, I knew of no more efficient means of impressing on the sheriff the seriousness of the matter than by placing him in jail until he indicated a willingness to comply,” the judge said.What say you lawyers out there? Did Judge Clemon abuse his discretion?