The Michigan Department of Corrections has levied a $98,000 fine against Aramark, the private food vendor that the Snyder administration awarded the contract to last year, in spite of numerous problems reported with the company in other states. Among the list of violations cited in Michigan are multiple instances of improper contact between Aramark employees and inmates — including physical contact. The vendor also made unauthorized food substitutions and did not prepare enough meals.
(Update: The Detroit Free Press reports that an Aramark worker was arrested on March 19, 2014, just a week after the private vendor was cited and fined for numerous violations. The worker was nabbed for smuggling two large bags of pot into the Cotton prison in Jackson. This offense was not included in the violations that triggered the fine.)
At the time the controversial contract was awarded, Gov. Snyder said this of his decision to go ahead with the private vendor:
“We went through an extensive process to look at doing it in-house versus looking to the outside,” Gov. Rick Snyder said Wednesday morning on WJR-AM 760 in Detroit. “I believe in competitive bidding — versus privatization — but we went through a competitive bidding process and we found a good answer. It will save us money and hopefully provide better service.”
Last year, the Michigan Department of Corrections had decided to reverse its decision not to privatize prison food service after GOP lawmakers questioned the bidding process. They tentatively awarded the contract to Aramark. Republican lawmakers re-crunched the numbers to their own liking producing an outcome that favored Aramark over public workers. AFSCME Council 25, which represents the 373 union workers that lost their jobs, told The Detroit News that the legislature “cooked the books”:
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, which represents about 38 unionized food service supervisors, plans to challenge the contract recommendation to the board, union lobbyist Nick Ciaramitaro said.
Ciaramitaro questioned the savings estimate since the state spends about $2 a day to feed a prisoner, and the food service workers have dual roles as trained as corrections officers.
“We’re now allowing an outside vendor to come in and pretend that they’re saving money because not every prisoner eats every meal,” Ciaramitaro said. “They cook the books to show a one-time savings.”
A Detroit Free Press article supported Ciaramitaro’s claim:
A 2007 report by the Florida Department of Corrections Bureau of Internal Audit found that a large number of prisoners stopped showing up for meals after Aramark took over the contract, creating a windfall for the vendor and reducing the value of the services provided without a proportionate decrease in … rates charged to the department.
In 2008, Florida cited Aramark in an audit for withholding food and over-billing, and the contract was severed when Aramark refused to improve their standards. A year later, Kentucky officials claimed that a food shortage under Aramark sparked a riot at one of their facilities. A 2010 audit of Aramark in Kentucky identified food skimping, problems with food safety, over-billing, and poor record keeping.
In spite of their history, Snyder gave approval for this company to provide food service in Michigan, signing a $145 million, three-year contract with Aramark.
Let’s hope the contract has a termination provision.