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Michigan prisoners may soon be eating ARAMARK meals

Prison fence. Michigan prisons are trying to save money in prescription drug costs.
Simon Brass
Prison fence. Michigan prisons are trying to save money in prescription drug costs.

About 400 food service state employees may soon be out of work at Michigan’s prisons.

That’s after Michigan reversed its previous decision NOT to privatize the contract.

The original company bids did not meet the state benchmark of at least 5 percent savings.

But officials say errors were found and corrected in the bids.

The result is an estimated $16 million in savings.  As a result, ARAMARK was announced as the winner of the $50 million contract.

Kurt Weiss is with Michigan's Department of Technology, Management and Budget.  He says ARAMARK  already has contracts for prison food in other states. 

"ARAMARK has four of those contracts, so they know what they're doing," he said. "They can provide it at a very affordable cost, and still have quality meals for the prisoners."

But in one of those states, ARAMARK's food quality may have been a factor in kicking off a prison riot.  In others, there have been reports of food poisoning and serving sizes being significantly reduced.

Union officials for Michigan's current prison food workers hope reviews by the state administrative board or the state civil service commission will reverse this decision.

Nick Ciramitaro is with the prison food workers' union (AFSCME) and says he hasn’t seen the updated bids to understand where the projected savings occur.

He says the state tried privatization before with bad results.

About 20 years ago, he says the state tried it at one facility. 

“They came in with a very low bid, but by the time the change orders were produced, and by the additional security costs and everything else that happened, it tripled within one year and they came back to AFSCME.”

Ciramitaro says he hopes the state administrative board will reverse this decision.

- Chris Zollars, Michigan Radio News