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Snyder: Prison food contract troubles are “unacceptable”

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Governor Rick Snyder says a deal with a private contractor to provide food for state prisons could be terminated if there are future problems with the company. Aramark Food Services was awarded the $145 million, three-year contract last December. But the arrangement has been beset by problems since then.

Aramark has been fined by the state for unapproved menu changes and running out of food. Also, 70 Aramark employees are banned from state prisons for inappropriate relationships with prisoners.

Most recently, maggots were found in the meal area at a prison in Jackson.

“Well the most recent problems are real problems, so that’s something that we are looking into,” he said. “That shouldn’t happen in terms of the quality and the safety of the good, so that’s not acceptable.”

But the governor says he does not believe it was a mistake to bid out prison food services.

“I believe in competitive bidding, so we should be looking at internal and external alternatives. On food service, that was one area that it could be appropriate in. Again, we’re not talking about the actual corrections officer function.”

The corrections officers union says food services are a critical point in a prison’s security. That’s because inmates are moving around, and issues with food create morale problems inside a prison that have security implications.

The Michigan Corrections Organization opposed the Aramark contract, which forced the layoff of 370 state prison employees. The state expects to save more than $12 million in food costs.

An Aramark spokewoman told MLive and The Detroit Free Press that the maggot issue was not caused by the company’s operations in the Parnell Correctional Facility, and Aramark employees promptly reported the problem. Thirty inmates were apparently sickened by food poisoning last weekend, but prison officials say they can’t find a connection between the two events. 

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.