Audit: Prisons record inaccurate food services info

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A new auditor general’s report questions whether state prison staff members are doing enough to ensure that the system’s food supplier is complying with its contract.

Interviews with staff and reviews of policies, practices and the contract from July 2015 through April 2017 showed a string of problems when it comes to verifying whether Florida-based Trinity Services Group Inc. is complying with the agreement. A team of corrections staff charged with overseeing whether the company is doing its job properly did not always record accurate information, the audit said.

But prison officials contest that assertion.

“It’s not that inaccurate information was reported,” said Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman. “These are all that were found after the hundreds, if not thousands, of inspections that are taking place year-round by our inspectors.”

Instead, Gautz said the issue is that the inspection forms don’t allow staff to include contextual information.

“So if, for example, a truck didn’t happen to be there to check it for something when the inspector was there, the inspector isn’t going to write that they were not in compliance,” he said. “That’s because the truck wasn’t required to be there at that time, and so to ding them for not being in compliance, which would then trigger a financial penalty, would not be fair.”

Gautz said the unit needs to “clarify monitoring procedures” to make sure it’s doing so effectively. He said the department has already “enhanced the criteria used for reviews to better identify aspects of compliance or noncompliance.”

But the audit found some instances in which the unit wasn’t doing its job well enough.

For example, one staffer reported compliance with a “sample meal display,” although no such thing was displayed, according to the audit. In another issue, staff at one prison said they were meeting grease disposal bin requirements, although the bin had been removed from the kitchen before the audit period even began.

Other examples include a staffer found to be in “noncompliance with the caustic substance inventory that should have been identified on at least the previous three inspections,” while other staffers indicated that food delivery trucks were clean even when those trucks weren’t present during an inspection.

The audit also found inconsistencies in how staff verified whether the company was adhering to the contract.

The company has been slammed in the past over food quality issues after inmates and prison staff complained of “maggot invested potatoes” and an “overwhelming stench” from the rotten food.

The latest audit released Wednesday did not look into food quality, staffing and employment practices.

State prisons incarcerate about 41,600 inmates at 31 facilities. The Michigan Department of Corrections switched to Trinity in December 2013 as its private prison food vendor.

The company was paid about $55.5 million in 2016. A day’s food for each prisoner costs an average of $3.36, according to the audit.