County seeks more cost-effective meal service for inmates

Published 6:57 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The county is exploring options for securing food for inmates at the Pike County Jail.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas said the bulk of the food currently has to be picked up from the Alabama Department of Corrections in Montgomery, while some additional foods are delivered to the jail.

This means jail administrator Kelley Barron and another jail official or deputy have to spend a part of their time each week driving back and forth from Montgomery.

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“We want to get the best price possible and have one vendor delivering,” Thomas said. “We can keep (Barron) at the jail and also get the best value. “

The county commission voted unanimously at its Feb. 25 meeting to let bids the delivery of food to the jail.

Pike County became one of the few in Alabama to take control of the jail food program at Thomas’ request following a controversy and lawsuits emerged over the practice. The lawsuits stem from an Alabama law passed in 1939 that places the responsibility for feeding inmates on county sheriffs.

The controversy over the law, which Thomas called “antiquated,” revived when Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin filed reports that showed he pocketed $750,000 from his jail food program over three years and subsequently purchased a $740,000 home in Orange Beach.

Critics have pointed out that some of the funding Entrekin kept was federal funding and claim it should have been handled differently than state funding. Pike County, alternatively, doesn’t house any federal inmates, and therefore does not receive any federal funding.

The state currently provides $1.75 per inmate per day to fund the program.

“We’re receiving the income from the state for the moneys we are allowed,” said County Administrator McKenzie Wilson.

“The sheriff’s office is still buying all the food and bringing in the invoices. Right now, it is not a cost to the county or to our budget.”

Wilson said the amount received from the state varies depending on the inmate population each month, and the average is about $3,500 each month.

“It is all kept in a separate account that is used only for the food for the inmates,” Wilson said. “Some months there might be more to feed them than what we get back from the state, some months a little less. It’s been so we didn’t have to supplement that money in any way.”

Wilson said in addition to the cost savings, the bid includes plans to have a nutritionist build the meal plans to ensure the food meets guidelines and keeps the inmates healthy.