This Sheriff's Theft Speaks To A Larger Problem With The System

Broken plate on the ground
Zain Murdock
January 21, 2024

In 2018, the Birmingham News broke an alarming story: Etowah, Alabama’s sheriff, Todd Entrekin, accrued $750,000 in income and purchased a $740,000 beach house. But how? After all, his salary was less than six figures. The money came from budgets to feed people in jails.  

And it wasn’t technically illegal.

During the Great Depression, a law allowed sheriffs to use unspent funds from jails’ food budgets. The amount of excess recently skimmed off the top went unknown.

After 2018, lawmakers restricted the practice to 25% of the budget. But in 2020, two counties voted for an amendment to again emphasize sheriffs’ rights to the budgets. 

Outside Alabama, concerns for meager food budgets and sheriff departmental theft continue.

What’s the logic behind forcing incarcerated people to survive on less while sheriffs live in excess? Entrekin’s exploitation left hundreds with rotten lettuce, noodles, and beans to eat. 

Many starve, suffer in pain, or attempt suicide. 

“Every ‘riot’ I’ve seen was because of some bulls**t they fed us,” said Benjamin Hunter, once incarcerated at Etowah County Jail. He recalled handling food boxes labeled “Not Fit For Human Consumption."

Food is a human right. But the system dehumanizes incarcerated people, exploiting labor, pain, and basic bodily needs. When its inhumane food regime is already culturally notorious, the greed of individual sheriffs only adds to an institution rooted in punishment and starvation.

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