July 3, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Flu-like outbreak puts Jackson prison under partial quarantine

Lansing A Jackson corrections facility is under partial quarantine after 150 prisoners showed flu-like symptoms, a state prison spokesman said Thursday.

There has been a fivefold increase in the number of inmates at the facility with illnesses, Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan confirmed. An estimated 30 inmates developed food poisoning symptoms last weekend and Monday, following an incident last Friday in which maggots were discovered in a crack between components of a food service apparatus at Parnall Correctional Facility.

A partial quarantine means prisoners are not allowed to have visitors, and the facility is not moving inmates in or out. The prison facility is awaiting test results from sick prisoners to identify the illnesses, Marlan confirmed.

After the maggots were discovered, workers scrubbed down a cafeteria with bleach. Prison employees followed the same procedure earlier this week when maggots, reportedly in one or more potatoes, were discovered by food workers peeling potatoes for a meal to be served later in the day at a separate Jackson facility called the Egeler Reception and Guidance Center.

Warden Heidi Washington ordered food services giant Aramark Corp. workers to throw out a pallet of raw potatoes that had been stored in the prison kitchen, Marlan said, and the Corrections Department then ordered an early garbage collection to get the spoiled potatoes off the prison grounds.

Egeler is the intake center where 1,103 new inmates are held for up to two weeks awaiting placement in the corrections system.

Aramark, which handles meals for the state corrections system under a three-year, $145 million contract, has come under scrutiny by the Corrections Department for the latest incidents and other issues. Corrections officials penalized Aramark $98,000 in March for problems such as over-familiarity by its workers with inmates.

The department has effectively threatened the company that it may end the contract, warning it will strictly enforce contract terms starting this month.

In the case of the Egeler center, Aramark signed with the state in December to run the prison food services at an estimated annual savings of at least $12 million. The arrangement displaced 370 state workers and drew criticism from the prison officers union, which speculated the private provider would make mistakes that compromise safety.

Gov. Rick Snyder expressed concerns about the maggot problem during a public appearance Tuesday.

GHeinlein@detroitnews.com