July 31, 2014 at 1:00 am

Critics spoiling to end prison food contract

'No decision yet' on review of Aramark deal over troubles

Lansing— A Corrections department spokesman said Thursday Michigan’s prison food service contract remained under review as two local officials and a liberal group demanded that the deal be ended.

“No decision yet,” Michigan Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said. “We continue to monitor Aramark’s statewide performance and collect any potential contract violations.”

But Marlan also indicated a decision isn’t far away.

Gov. Rick Snyder, who said he’s very concerned about problems that have occurred since the contract was signed in December, told reporters early last week the deal is under full review. He said he’d make his determination within a couple of weeks.

Marlan was responding to demands from Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward and Ingham County Commissioner Kara Hope — both Democrats — and the Progress Michigan group.

Aramark, an Atlanta-based service giant with 30 years of experience providing inmate meals, took over Michigan prison food preparation under a three-year pact costing $145 million annually.

It has been troubled by incidents, including over-familiarity between workers and inmates, food shortages and maggot infestations. The department says 74 Aramark workers have been banned from work in the prisons.

Woodward, a former state lawmaker, called the contract a “colossal failure” and said he’s asking for a review of a contract Aramark also has to provide meals for prisoners in Oakland’s jail.

“These are huge public health issues, public safety issues,” Woodward said.

But Oakland Sheriff Michael Bouchard, a Republican, has said the Aramark deal has created substantial savings for his department and hasn’t mentioned any problems with the company.

Woodward and Hope said they’re concerned some banned Aramark prison food employees are working in Oakland’s jail or will be assigned to meal services in school districts that have contracted with the company.

“Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t go to corporate bad actors,” said Hope, who added that her parents worked at a state prison in Ionia when she was growing up. Her mother, she said, was a corrections officer who frequently was stationed in the prison cafeteria when meals were served.

“Gov. Snyder needs to do what’s best for Michigan and cancel the state’s contract with Aramark,” Hope said.

The deal is intended to save the state $12 million to $16 million annually. It resulted in the replacement of 370 state workers who had prepared prison meals.

The state penalized the company $98,000 in March. In June, Corrections Chief Deputy Director Randall Treacher notified Aramark additional violations after July 1 could lead to cancellation of the contract.

Aramark Corporate Communications Director Karen Cutler has said the company shares the state’s concerns about problems with the transition and promised excellent service. She says some criticism has been orchestrated by corrections worker unions.

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