August 8, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Michigan fines prison food vendor $200,000 for 'unacceptable' errors

Lansing — The state of Michigan is fining its prison food vendor $200,000 for “unacceptable” errors since food service was privatized late last year.

The fine announced Friday is the second imposed on Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services after an earlier citation of $98,000 for failure to adhere to the $145 million annual contract.

The latest fine was imposed mainly for “unapproved menu substitutions, inadequate staffing levels and Aramark employee misconduct,” according to a letter dated Friday sent to Aramark by Jeff Brownlee, chief procurement officer for the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

Snyder said the transition to Aramark has seen “errors on both sides of the relationship which are unacceptable and need to be corrected going forward.”

Aramark, which won a three-year contract, has come under scrutiny for unapproved menu substitutions, inadequate staffing and workers having inappropriate contact with inmates. More than 90 Aramark employees have been suspended or banned from state prisons this year, Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said.

The food service contractor said Friday an investigation by the Michigan Department of Corrections found it was not responsible for multiple incidences of prison illness and maggot infestation in prison kitchens.

“We greatly appreciate that the MDOC investigated all recent allegations connecting Aramark to inmate illnesses and pests and determined that none of these incidents were caused by our company,” John Hanner, president of Aramark Correctional Services, said in a statement.

But Brownlee’s letter made clear that food sanitation and cost issues remain. He said Aramark needs to “correct any sanitation violations” and create a plan to ensure “continued compliance with all applicable sanitation standards.”

Brownlee’s letter also insisted that Aramark “explore opportunities where subcontracting with other food service providers may promote a more efficient delivery of services.”

In a statement, Snyder said privatization of the services is on pace to save $14 million a year. The state aimed to save $12 million to $17 million a year under the food outsourcing.

By contracting with Aramark, the state eliminated 370 prison meal preparation jobs.

The governor said Aramark will be required to redesign staffing procedures. The fine will be used to hire an independent contract oversight adviser who will work in the governor’s office.

“We are encouraged by these contractual and operational changes, and are confident they will ensure a more positive and productive partnership going forward,” Hanner said.

Brownlee’s letter indicated the Snyder administration expects the privatization effort will work.

“Over the past month, Aramark has shown a commitment to correct the deficiencies and ensure future compliance with the contract,” Brownlee wrote in the letter. “We appreciate these efforts and fully expect the contract to be successful.”

The Associated Press contributed.