Sheriffs' group urges a halt to inmates working for churches

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2001

DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) -- The Florida Sheriffs Association has recommended an immediate halt to using jail inmates as free labor for churches.

The association's notice to sheriffs, based on advice from its legal office, says the practice could expose them to claims of violating the Florida constitution by improperly spending public funds.

In Walton County, where inmates have been cleaning and doing other chores for churches for 20 years, newly elected Sheriff Ralph Johnson said he was looking into the matter.

''What's legal, we'll keep doing, and what's not legal, we'll stop doing,'' Johnson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union last year threatened to sue Johnson's predecessor for violating church-state separation provisions of the state and federal constitutions. The previous sheriff said the state association had defended the practice.

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