ETOWAH COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - A spokesperson denies immigration detainees are on a hunger strike in the Etowah County Detention Center.
At issue is a long-standing allegation the food is inedible and sometimes even rotten. The top two floors of the jail house immigration detainees by ICE.
A group called Shutdown Etowah has long protested what they say are inhumane conditions in the jail. The group says detainees in Unit Nine are currently waging a hunger strike.
"[Unit 9] was the unit where I was housed. My heart goes out to them,” said a former detainee only identified as R.M. in the news release. “The hard part is that you get exhausted after those hunger strikes. You just hope that somehow authorities and people are going to finally listen or understand that these are not animals living in those quarters, they’re people. But what comes after is silence and the crackdown on inmates.”
Etowah County Sheriff’s Office Director of Communication Mike Powell says inmates don’t like the menu choices and refused to eat Wednesday night because they didn’t like the beans on their plates.
"There is no hunger strike going on right now," Powell says. "Last night they were served a plate that had beans on it. They're not really happy about that, and that's understandable."
He says they did eat breakfast Thursday morning.
“This morning, they ate breakfast,” Powell said. “For lunch today, they were given another plate with beans, so they denied taking those. We’re in the process now of trying to come up with a resolution, and I assure you tonight they’ll be eating chicken.”
Powell says chicken was already on the menu before the protest began.
Over the last two years, the quality and funding of the food at the Etowah County Detention Center has received national attention. Former Sheriff Todd Entrekin came under fire for often serving expired food to the inmates, and taking advantage of a loophole in Alabama law that allows county sheriffs to keep leftover profits from their food budgets. He was then blasted for buying a beach house in Orange Beach for some $750,000 - roughly what he made from the leftover food budget profit.
Entrekin denied using the food fund to buy the beach house, but lost the Republican primary to Jonathon Horton, who said in his campaign he would give back leftover fund funds to the county. Horton was sworn in January 14, and this is the first such protest to come up on his watch.
“We are looking into it now and making changes, and you’ll see a lot of better things coming up. We’re going to take care of that,” Powell said.
We reached out to Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman from the department’s regional New Orleans office. We received an automated response saying he couldn’t comment due to the current government shutdown.