Privatization — July 13, 2015 at 12:20 pm

BREAKING: State of Michigan to for-profit prison food vendor Aramark: “YOU’RE FIRED!”


After scandal after scandal (after scandal after scandal), the Michigan Department of Corrections has terminated their contract with Aramark, the for-profit prison food vendor who earned millions of dollars paid for with Michigan citizens’ tax dollars:

The state of Michigan is parting ways with prison food vendor Aramark by “mutual agreement” and moving to a new contractor, Trinity Services Group, the state announced today.

A transition will begin July 29 and is expected to be concluded on Sept. 9 — what would have been three months shy of the two-year anniversary of Aramark’s three-year, $145-million contract with the state of Michigan.

The Free Press, using the Freedom of Information Act and other sources, has documented a wide range of problems with the prison food service since Aramark took over the contract, replacing 370 state employees. Issues have ranged from meal shortages to maggots in the kitchen, to smuggling of drugs and other contraband by Aramark employees, to Aramark workers engaging in sex acts with prisoners. […]

Close to 200 Aramark workers have been terminated and banned from prison property for a range of transgressions, including allegedly attempting to hire an inmate to have another inmate assaulted.

Trinity’s new contract is worth $158 million over three years, a sign of just how lucrative these privatization schemes are for for-profit vendors.

While the Detroit Free Press takes a victory lap for this development, the true heroes were Progress Michigan who tenaciously kept the story in the news including spending the money needed to procure thousands of pages of documents through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Here’s Progress Michigan’s Executive Director Lonnie Scott’s statement about the news:

Today’s announcement is great news for people who value accountability. Progress Michigan is pleased that Gov. Rick Snyder has finally answered our repeated calls to cancel the Aramark contract. While Aramark’s performance failed at every turn, the Snyder administration also failed to properly monitor and hold Aramark accountable. The Governor should no longer experiment with prison privatization, instead he should work to bring back the workers who did a quality job on behalf of Michigan taxpayers. We cannot afford another out-of-state corporation abusing public trust and misusing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel issued a similar statement:

Gov. Rick Snyder did the sensible thing when he decided to end Aramark’s contract to operate food services in Michigan prisons. From the very start, Aramark’s track record in our state has been one disaster after another, ranging from allegations of trafficking drugs into our prisons, to sexual relations between Aramark employees and inmates, to maggot-contaminated kitchens. It’s plainly obvious now that cutting corners to save money on prison services not only doesn’t work, but puts prison guards and families living near prisons at risk. Instead of transferring the work to yet another outside company, the governor should end his failed experiment of outsourcing critically important prison jobs.

Scott and Greimel are 100% correct about this. The Department of Corrections should move swiftly to rehire the workers who originally did this work and it should not be outsourced to yet another for-profit private corporation.

And it doesn’t stop there. This entire episode is Exhibit A in the debate over the merits (or demerits, to be more accurate) of outsourcing essential government services to for-profit corporations. Whenever this is done, corners WILL be cut to boost profits and the Aramark debacle showed this profoundly.

Aramark issued a statement saying, strangely, that they are “proud to have served the state during a major groundbreaking shift to privatization” and played the victim card:

We take full responsibility for all aspects of our performance while operating in a highly charged political environment that included repeated false claims. Ultimately, we were unable to resolve a number of shared issues and as a result we mutually agreed with MDOC to end the contract.

If you can’t take the political heat, stay out of the (prison) kitchen. What you call “false claims”, we call “facts”.

Kudos to Progress Michigan for their advocacy and action on this issue. Once in awhile justice prevails and the Good Guys win. This is, without question, one of those times.