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Sheriff seeks U.S. inmates
Commission OKs Bartlett negotiations to house prisoners in county jail

By Sheryl Marsh · 340-2437

The Morgan County Commission waved the green flag for Sheriff Greg Bartlett to house federal inmates and he took off with negotiation talks.

If the sheriff houses federal inmates, it could generate more money for county coffers and for him personally.

The commission majority urged Bartlett in January to pursue housing federal inmates. The commissioners said the money received from that would help pay for the $23 million jail, which opened in June.

U.S. Marshal C. Martin Keely said Bartlett met with a deputy marshal Friday to discuss housing federal prisoners at the county jail.

“We have met with the sheriff on more than one occasion,” Keely said Thursday.

Keely said Friday’s meeting went well.

“They had a good meeting and if everything is worked out, at some point we’ll be housing federal prisoners there,” Keely said. “I believe it might be close to finalization.”

Bartlett did not return phone calls Friday.

A 1930s state law allows sheriffs to keep money left from a Department of Corrections allotment after feeding inmates. An Etowah County official said that law is applicable when a county houses federal inmates.

Keely said the federal government gives a county a flat fee per prisoner per day, which covers all the prisoners’ needs. He said federal officials don’t have anything to do with how the money is spent. There is no separate fee for feeding federal prisoners.

“We’re a little bit different,” said Keely. “It’s like if you go to a Hampton Inn, the soap, shampoo, towels and breakfast are included in the hotel rate. Our jail rate is inclusive of everything.”

Chairman John Glasscock said the contract would be between the government and the commission.

There are federal guidelines for feeding inmates.

Peanut butter sandwiches and beans cannot dominate menus.

“If I had a complaint from somebody that they were being fed beans and peanut butter and jelly every day, we would investigate it,” Keely said.

Also, he said, inmates cannot eat wild game, but locally raised beef and garden vegetables are fine.

Inmates who spent time in Morgan County Jail last year complained about skimpy meals and said peanut butter sandwiches and beans were regular servings.

Bartlett gave The Daily menus that showed evening meals that included spaghetti, pork roast and fried chicken. An inmate said he never received those dishes. Some menu lunches consisted of peanut butter sandwiches and chips, and bologna sandwiches. The inmate said that was plentiful.

Keely said any contract to house federal inmates includes minor medical treatment.

“If there is a major medical procedure, it would fall back on us and we’d pay for it,” Keely said.

Sixty-two sheriffs in the state receive $1.75 per day per state inmate for meals.

The law lets them keep leftover money. Bartlett kept $103,938 from $267,927 he received from the state during a 24-month period. He spent $163,991 for food to feed inmates, according to one of his audit reports. Bartlett’s salary this year is slightly more than $60,000.

Etowah County’s sheriff said last year that he housed an average of 350 federal inmates at the jail there. The county administrator said the Etowah County Commission issued him a 1099 for $418,000 for 2005 from feeding federal and Gadsden City Jail inmates. The amount did not include what he received from the state for feeding county inmates.

The sheriff, James Hayes, said he received $3 per day for feeding each federal inmate.

The federal inmates in the Etowah jail were mostly illegal immigrants. Keely said contracts to house such prisoners are different.

“Our prisoners are awaiting trial and would never be sentenced to a county jail,” said Keely.

He said the time of their stay in a county jail could range from six months to a year or more, depending on incidentals that could delay trials.

Bartlett told commissioners at the January meeting that he needed to hire 14 more jailers to open the jail’s fourth pod. He said the male jail population had grown to the point of overcrowding.

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