Michigan Prison Food Vendor Risks Losing $145 Million Contract

Aramark, contracted to provide food for Michigan's prisons, risks losing its $145 million contract with the State after a dismal performance that includes many serious food shortages.

From the Detroit Free Press:

"LANSING — The Michigan Department of Corrections has put its new prison food vendor on notice it needs to shape up or risk losing the contract, in an action sparked in part by prison unrest.

Randall Treacher, the department’s chief deputy director, sent Aramark Correctional Services a letter June 6 that said the company — which took over food operations in early December — continues to run out of food too often and make unauthorized substitutions for approved menu items.

[']This situation has continued to require facilities to devote attention to food service that should be focused on the safe and secure operation of our prisons,['] Treacher said in the letter to Bob Marshall, Aramarks’s senior vice president of operations in Philadelphia.

Starting July 1, Treacher said, the department will begin strict enforcement of the three-year, $145-million contract’s terms related to meal counts and food substitutions, which could result in financial penalties and even termination of the contract.

Russ Marlan, a spokesman for the Corrections Department, said the letter was in part a response to recent trouble at St. Louis Correctional Facility, where officer had to use tear gas in early June to pacify high-security prisoners who were breaking items in their cells, making noise and seizing mop handles and refusing to return them.

When the warden in St. Louis tried to find out what was behind the disturbances, prisoners cited the quality and quantity of the food, Marlan said.

The department wants to put a stop to the shortages and substitutions before the summer gets hot and tempers get shorter, he said.

Karen Cutler, an Aramark spokeswoman, said the company has [']made a great deal of progress and continues to work diligently to address any issues that arise.[']

Under the contract, Aramark is supposed to comply with a statewide standard menu that provides a daily average intake of 2,600 calories for men and 2,200 calories for women. Any variations from that menu must be approved by the department.

In March, the department fined Aramark $98,000 for food shortages and unauthorized menu substitutions, which have been linked to other prisoner demonstrations, including a passive protest at the Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula in February.

Dozens of Aramark workers have been fired and banned from the prison system for transgressions including trying to smuggle marijuana into a prison, showing up drunk for work, and getting too friendly with prisoners.

The Aramark contract eliminated 370 state jobs at an estimated annual savings of $12 million to $16 million.

But critics said those savings will be reduced if corrections officers have to spend extra time in the chow halls as a result of increased problems.

[']Certainly, we recognized that the change to a contracted prison food service operation would be a large transition and issues would arise,['] Marlan said today.

[']However, we are also acutely aware of the importance of a reliable, responsible, consistent and quality food service operation on the safety and security of our correctional facilities,” and “we are still experiencing issues related to requirements under the contract.[']"