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Michigan prisons fine private food service contractor for violations

A guard tower stands overlooking the yard at one of the state prisons in Jackson
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
A guard tower stands overlooking the yard at one of the state prisons in Jackson

The Michigan Department of Corrections has fined Aramark, the company that handles food operations in state prisons.

The MDOC notified Aramark of the fines, totaling almost $100,000, by two letters sent in the last two weeks.

The MDOC said Aramark violated its contract by substituting meals, and by failing to prepare the right number of meals.

The fines have been assessed for 52 unauthorized meal substitutions and 240 instances of improper meal counts.

Russ Marlan is a spokesperson for the MDOC. He said food service is important to stability in prisons, and it matters that prisoners receive the meals they've been told they'll get and that there is consistency among housing units.

"They're (Aramark) required to follow our menu and they're required to serve the same food and the same portions to the entire prison population," Marlan said. "And we found some examples after working through that transition period where that just wasn't occurring."

Last month, 200 prisoners at Kinross Correctional Facility staged a peaceful demonstration over shortages in scheduled meal items. The demonstration took place two months after Aramark started handling prison food services.

The MDOC also fined Aramark for  a dozen instances of company employees being over-familiar with prisoners. Marlan said the incidents involved kissing, touching, and carrying notes from prisoners, all of which are prohibited by MDOC regulations.

Marlan is hopeful these problems will be resolved going forward.

Aramark took over food service for Michigan's prisons in December. Marlan said the company replaced about 350 state employees. 

"So we would expect that there would be some transition issues associated with switching a system that large overnight to a contractor," he said. "But we're hopeful that this will continue to improve, and we'll have a good contractual relationship with Aramark."

Marlan said the MDOC has eight contract monitors who continuously review operations at Michigan's 31 correctional facilities and regularly meet with Aramark to ensure contract compliance.

In a written statement, Aramark said "we are commited to resolving any issues as quickly as possible."

Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom