Michigan ends prison food contract with Aramark

(file photo)

LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Michigan has terminated a three-year, $145 million contract with Aramark Correctional Services a year after the company hired to feed state prisoners came under scrutiny for unapproved menu substitutions, worker misconduct and other issues, state officials announced Monday.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration said the state and company mutually agreed to end their relationship 14 ½ months early after being unable to resolve Aramark-initiated talks about contract revisions related to billing and menus.

“This was really a discussion Aramark started when they wanted to make some of these changes to contract, and so we looked at that in terms of the billing model and some of the things that would have ended up costing the state more,” Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz told 24 Hour News 8 on Monday.

Michigan fined Aramark $200,000 last year for unauthorized food changes, inadequate staffing and employee misconduct such as fraternizing with inmates and drug smuggling. There also have been maggot problems, though Aramark was cleared of responsibility for incidents in 2014. An Aramark kitchen worker was fired for ordering cake that appeared to have been nibbled by rodents to be served to prisoners.

Snyder previously defended sticking with Aramark, saying Michigan was on pace to save $14 million a year through privatization.

Trinity Services Group, based in Oldsmar, Florida, will transition to becoming Michigan’s new vendor in the next two months under a three-year, $158 million contract up for approval by a state board Tuesday.

“Their business is correctional food service, and they have a proven track record across the country working in other facilities — some 44 states,” state Corrections Department Director Heidi Washington said.

The company was the only other qualified bidder when Michigan first privatized prison food services.

“We definitely did our due diligence. Again, Trinity had bid several years ago. We had looked at their bid before. We’ve looked into their experience,” Gautz said. “They are in 44 states. They serve meals all over the place, a lot of it is in the county jails. They run the entire state of Arizona. They definitely have the experience in the prisons.”

When 24 Hour News 8 looked into Trinity, only find a few complaints came up. In one of those, inmates said they had not been given enough food.

“There’s not a major history that we found or any major incidents that stood out or repeated incidents and things like that that we’ve seen. We felt comfortable in that respect with all the institutions they have been in,” Gautz said.

There are provisions in the state’s contract with Trinity that allow the state to take action if problems arise, as they did with Aramark.

“I don’t want to get into pitting one against the other. Our hope is that Trinity going to live up to the terms of their contract and we will be closely monitoring that,” Gautz said.

Aramark has food contracts with schools, colleges, hospitals and stadiums in addition to janitorial and uniform businesses. Michigan’s contract with Aramark was supposed to run through September 2016.

Democrats and a liberal advocacy group, while pleased with the contract’s cancellation, said the state should no longer bid out prison food services. The 2013 outsourcing led to the loss of 370 unionized state jobs replaced by lower-paid private workers.

“It’s plainly obvious now that cutting corners to save money on prison services not only doesn’t work, but puts prison guards and families living near prisons at risk,” House Minority Leader Tim Greimel said.

Snyder, however, said Michigan will see “significant” savings — at least $11.5 million a year — by still having a private firm prepare food in its 33 prisons.

In a statement, Aramark said it was disappointed the deal didn’t work out, but was proud to serve Michigan “during a major groundbreaking shift to privatization and delivering on our commitments to serve 65 million meals in MDOC facilities and save Michigan taxpayers more than $25 million.”

Aramark, which on its website says it has retained 97 percent of its correctional facility business in more than 35 years, said it takes “full responsibility” for its performance in Michigan prisons “while operating in a highly charged political environment that included repeated false claims.”

The Snyder administration hired Aramark to prepare food for the Michigan’s 43,000 prisoners after initially saying the move would not save enough money. Once Republican lawmakers objected, the administration reversed course, saying mistakes were made in evaluating bidders’ proposals.

Ohio recently renewed a contract with Aramark to feed 50,000 prison inmates. The company had faced criticism in that state last year over understaffing, running out of food and a few cases of maggots near food prep areas.

Aramark’s statement:

“Regrettably, the partnership with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) has not worked out as both sides hoped, and that is disappointing. We are proud to have served the state during a major groundbreaking shift to privatization and delivering on our commitments to serve 65 million meals in MDOC facilities and save Michigan taxpayers more than $25 million. We take full responsibility for all aspects of our performance while operating in a highly charged political environment that included repeated false claims. Ultimately, we were unable to resolve a number of shared issues and as a result we mutually agreed with MDOC to end the contract.”

Gov. Snyder also released a statement regarding the transition:

“We will remain focused on moving forward. Michigan will continue to realize significant cost savings from this new contract. Our departments will work tirelessly with both companies to ensure a smooth, collaborative transition as well as quality service, security and safety within the facilities during the change.”

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