Corporatism — August 11, 2014 at 8:49 am

For-profit prison food vendor Aramark’s scandals aren’t just a Michigan problem


Food vendor employees having sex with prisoners. Maggots in the food service areas. Prison food shortages. Scores of employees banned from prisons. I’ve written about all of this and more about the for-profit prison food vendor Aramark in Michigan.

But the scandals here are not the only scandals Aramark is facing. They are on the hot seat in Ohio for the exact same issues.

Check out the headlines:

Testifying before the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee in downtown Columbus, Mabe said nearly 100 Aramark employees have been banned from ever entering a DR&C prison, more than 100 instances of food shortages and issues ranging from increased contraband, to low staffing levels, to inappropriate relationships, a combination of factors that lead to the inescapable conclusion that Aramark never had control of the contract.

Reported and verified food shortages have pushed past 100, many that led to security problems, inmate violence and programming delays. Cost shifting is also taking place, Mabe said, pointing to staff reallocations, additional inspections and increased security, among others. This has the effect, he said, of propping up the contractor. “So instead of Aramark servicing our institutions, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that DR&C is now servicing Aramark,” he said in prepared remarks.

These many infractions have AFSCME affiliate Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) calling for Ohio government officials to pull the plug on Aramark:

Today, OCSEA is again calling for the Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation and Correction to sever its ties with the private food contractor, Aramark, after yet another prison reported a maggot infestation. As of today, three prisons have found maggots in prison food and the union is receiving information daily about other infractions, including more maggots.

The Ohio Reformatory for Women and Trumbull Correctional Institution were the first prisons to report an issue with maggots contaminating food. Three separate incidents have been reported at ORW in beans, meat and in the food line, dating back to January of this year. TCI shut down a food line at the end of last week due to a maggot infestation, and now, Noble Correctional Institution is reporting maggots have gotten into inmate food.

“When is enough, enough?” said OCSEA President Christopher Mabe. “These are not isolated incidents. Aramark has a pattern of not only poor food quality, but food shortages, low staffing levels and security breaches. It’s well past time to pull the plug on the Aramark contract,” said Mabe.

So far there have been nine – NINE! – documented cases of maggots found in Ohio prison food where Aramark has the contract. In one instance, the discovery was made during a tour by union officials and state legislative aides:

Union leaders and legislative aides were watching workers power-wash the kitchen of the Ohio Reformatory for Women yesterday afternoon when maggots floated out from beneath steel floor plates.

Just like in Michigan, nearly 100 Aramark employees have been banned from Ohio prisons for infractions like bringing in contraband to inmates and having sex with prisoners.

And, just like in Michigan, Aramark is the poster child for the failure of privatization, a move designed to save the state money and enrich to for-profit vendor with tax dollars. The company has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars in two separate instances for their failure to feed prisoners on the cheap.

Aramark received a $110 million, two-year contract last fall as part of a state cost-cutting move that so far has saved $13.3 million. The Philadelphia-based company is feeding 50,500 inmates at an average cost of $3.61 a day each.

The result: the most food-service problems in state prisons in the past decade, said Joanna Saul, director of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

As in Michigan, all it will take is one successful lawsuit by prisoners to eat up the so-called cost savings. Given that inmates in one Ohio prison staged a massive protest last week, with 1,000 of them dumping their lunch trays into the garbage, that sort of lawsuit is looking increasingly likely.

By the way, Aramark isn’t just having issues in Michigan and Ohio. There have been problems in Alabama, Kentucky, New Jersey, California, Indiana, and Florida, too.

It’s a completely failed experiment, proving what should be obvious to anyone: privatization leads to cutting corners and the corners that get cut are the health and safety of inmates.

It’s time for Aramark to lose its contracts with Michigan and Ohio prisons. And, don’t forget, this same company has contracts with many schools and universities. Something to keep in mind if Aramark is providing services in YOUR area and profiting from YOUR tax dollars.