Last week, four of their workers were caught on security video engaging in inappropriate sexual contact with inmates in a walk-in cooler at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility. The four were fired, bringing the total number of Aramark employees banned by the MDOC to eighty. In the same week, an employee at the Muskegon Correctional Facility was caught pants-down with an inmate. Two weeks before that, there were multiple reports of maggots found in and around food. Over one hundred inmates at the Parnall Correctional Facility were treated for food-borne illnesses earlier this month.
Ohio is reporting the same problems: sexual contact, maggots, food shortages, staffing shortfalls, smuggling of contraband items. The buckeye state recently fined Aramark $142,000 for contract breeches. On May 28th, guards had to shut-down the breakfast line at one prison to forestall a looming mass demonstration by inmates.
Aramark’s dismissive response to all this is comically off-base, claiming they were improving service, and calling the situation “an ongoing political and media circus about anti-privatization.” Ohio’s not buying it though. Sally Meckling, spokesperson for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association replied: “The number of incidences are not decreasing. If anything, they’re increasing.”
A few days ago an Aramark employee was arrested in a narcotics sting in a San Antonio, Texas prison. He was caught smuggling drugs, cigarettes, among other items into the Bexar County Adult Center.
Earlier this year, Democracy Tree enumerated the many offenses that line the Aramark rap sheet. The problems with the company simply can no longer be swept under the rug. After Michigan fined the company $98,000 for violations, even Gov. Snyder admitted it was time to take a serious look at the 3 year, $145 million contract with the MDOC. When asked if he would consider terminating the contract he replied:
“Well, there’s been a number of issues. So I would say we’re approaching those kinds of points, in terms of what needs to be done…I don’t want to start all kinds of speculation, but the performance hasn’t been acceptable and so we need to get these things resolved.”
WLNS reports that Rep. Greg MacMaster (R-105), chair of the House Department of Corrections subcommittee, isn’t so keen on rushing to judgement, claiming this is simply a bid for organized labor, who lost 370 jobs due to the contract, to exploit a few incidents.
All of this started with a MacMaster scheme to find money for Michigan’s crumbling roads.
Seventeen months ago Rep. MacMaster suggested to the Appropriations committee that finding money for Michigan roads was as simple as privatizing prison food services. By his estimate, more than $100 million could be found by outsourcing to the lowest bidder.
In fact, he and his fellow lawmakers were so set on the idea of private bidding that they introduced a bill to prohibit the public sector from competing for bids wherever there was a private sector entity that could perform the task. MacMaster’s bill was styled after a federal bill Senator Thune (R-South Dakota) introduced a few years ago titled the Freedom From Government Competition Act. That bill died in committee, as MacMaster’s will too.
The rationale behind these bills is the notion that the public sector has an unfair advantage in competing against the private sector, and that this is a means of saving tax dollars and creating jobs. They termed it the “Yellow Pages” test. Thune characterized it this way:
“The Freedom from Government Competition Act would codify the “Yellow Pages” test, which states that if the federal government is doing something that can be found in the Yellow Pages, the product or service should be subject to market competition to ensure better value for the taxpayer.”
David Morris, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self Reliance makes a strong argument against this type of legislation. He points out that the private sector frequently relies heavily on tax breaks and subsidies. Morris refers to the system as one of unfair “handicaps” as found in golf.
“Unbeknownst to most of us, the competition between public and private sectors is also handicapped. But contrary to the popular wisdom, it is the private sector that often cannot compete without being given more strokes.”
Well, we certainly can report that Aramark employees are clearly taking advantage of certain types of “strokes” from Michigan inmates.
It’s time to pull the plug on this failed privatization scheme before Michigan’s prisons become the scene of repeated riots.