This guest post was written by Donald Cohen, the Executive Director of In The Public Interest, a “comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting”. They are committed to equipping citizens, public officials, advocacy groups, and researchers with the information, ideas, and other resources they need to ensure that public contracts with private entities are transparent, fair, well-managed, and effectively monitored, and that those contracts meet the long-term needs of communities.
The piece was first posted HERE.
Since Aramark Correctional Services won a $145-million contract to feed Michigan inmates in December, the corporation has been plagued by instances of misconduct, poor sanitation, and other critical failures that risk the health and safety of inmates and correctional officers alike. Criticism from across the state has grown in recent weeks, and calls to cancel the contract with Aramark and increase transparency in the Department of Corrections have been echoed in at least three Michigan newspapers.
In a September 19 editorial, the Detroit Free Press described Aramark’s performance as “disgusting.” The Free Press relayed several incidents when the contracting giant failed to meet its responsibilities, including reports of food shortages, maggots in and near prison food and prep areas, as well as employees engaging in sex acts with inmates and smuggling contraband (including cocaine and heroin) into correctional facilities. Also of concern to the editorial board: the secret cancellation of a $98,000 fine imposed against Aramark earlier this year by the Department of Corrections Director Dan Hyne.
In addition to noting that the state could cancel the three-year contract without paying a penalty, the Free Press implores state officials and lawmakers to increase the rigor of oversight of state contracts to prevent these scandals from happening in the first place.
On the same day, The Mount Pleasant Morning Sun published an editorial calling on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to cancel the contract with Aramark altogether. The Morning Sun noted that since Aramark assumed the contract, 90 Aramark employees have been banned from state prisons due to misconduct. While the paper acknowledges most Aramark employees are good, hardworking folks, local jurisdiction “Gratiot County courts handled six cases of smuggling or attempted smuggling of contraband into the prisons” in just eight months.
A September 15 editorial in the state capital’s Lansing State Journal noted that “[Aramark] can only blame itself for problems delivering wholesome meals in sufficient quantities and keeping its employees from fraternizing with prisoners,” while also reminding readers that the state has failed to meet its obligation of transparency. The Snyder Administration has claimed it will be “getting tough” on Aramark, but the lack of transparency illustrated by events such as the secret fine cancellation has left many Michigan taxpayers with doubts.
Last summer, ITPI released the Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda, a set of eleven common sense legislative recommendations to help taxpayers reclaim control of important public services through increasing accountability and transparency of contractors while promoting competition and shared prosperity. Implementing the agenda in Michigan would achieve many of the oversight and transparency goals demanded in the recent spate of media criticisms directed at Aramark.