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Michigan puts prison food service company prisoners on notice: Get it together ... or else

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel
Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for prisoner rehabilitation

Michigan’s Department of Corrections says problems with Aramark, the company that provides inmates their meals, have the potential to compromise safety and security in the state's prisons.

Food service was privatized at Michigan’s 31 prisons in December, saving roughly $16 million a year.

“Literally from a Saturday to a Sunday it transitioned to 360 contractor workers who, in many cases, had never been inside a correctional facility,” Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said. “So we expected some problems, we expected some issues.”

Aramark has problems with running out of some meals and changing the menu, something that’s not allowed under the contract.

“Say there’s 1,200 prisoners in a prison and after 800, they run out of hot dogs and they start serving something else, Marlan says. "Well, that may not be a big deal inside a hospital or a university, but inside of a prison that consistency is very important to the stability of the institution.”

Meal problems prompted a peaceful protest at a prison in the Upper Peninsula earlier this year.

Marlan says things improved for a little while after the state fined Aramark nearly $100,000. But he says those problems have been popping up again.

“It’s causing the tension level to rise inside of our correctional facilities and we’re seeing issues that I think jeopardize the safety and security of our prisons,” he said.

MDOC sent a letter to Aramark this month advising the company that the department would begin strict enforcement of the contract provisions regarding meal substitutions and menu changes on July 1.

Marlans says the hope is that Aramark will take notice and do whatever the company needs to do to comply with the contract and resolve the issues.

Karen Cutler, an Aramark representative, was not available for an interview but issued this written statement:

“We have made a great deal of progress and continue to work diligently to address any issues that arise,” Cutler said.

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s investigative reporter. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor and West Michigan Reporter.
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