Once upon a time, Michigan prison kitchens were run by state personnel. Because of this, the kitchens were excused from what was seen as redundant inspections by another government agency. However, with Gov. Snyder’s ongoing experiment in outsourcing and privatizing every government service that he possibly can, our prison kitchens are now run by private, for-profit corporations that are beholden to shareholders to make a tidy profit for them. However, when Republicans privatized prison kitchens, they did nothing to change the law exempting them from state oversight.
The upshot is that prison kitchens are no longer inspected by the state and we instead rely on them to “self inspect”. It’s a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse. Unsurprisingly, none of these inspections appear to have uncovered anything of note. In other words, according to the private prison food vendors, “Everything is just fine, nothing to see here.”
This, of course, we know to be completely untrue. As has been well-documented here at Eclectablog and elsewhere, there were big problems in the kitchens run by the for-profit Aramark. Maggots and rats in prison food areas and a host of other problems have been ongoing since Aramark first took over what the state itself used to do. Due to this, Aramark was finally sent packing, only to be replaced by yet another for-profit corporation, Trinity Services Group.
Now, you would think that these bills would have widespread bipartisan support. After all, even those who support the privatization of prison services should want to be sure the state is providing safe food to prisoners and, if they stay true to their rhetoric, private corporations should have absolutely no problem following the rules while making a profit and saving the state copious amounts of dollars that they can give away as tax breaks to those same corporations.
You would be wrong.
As it turns out, there are some Republicans that think this is a bad idea. Republican Lana Theis is afraid that Trinity Services, which would have to foot the bill for the inspections, will have a sad because the inspections weren’t mentioned in their contract. She thinks we should wait three years until their contract is up. What’s three years of un-inspected kitchens when all we’re talking about here is prisoners, amirite?
The worst statement on this, however, came from Rep. Joseph Graves. He’s afraid his corporate benefactors will laugh at him:
Rep. Joseph Graves, R-Linden, said quality control should be built into the process, and that requiring inspections is a step backward. “The corporate world would laugh at this,” Graves said.
This is a classic corporatist response to government. Corporations, of course, want LESS oversight. They prefer it when, for example, the people inspecting them are … them. Or when regulators are former (and likely future) employees. That isn’t really laughter that Rep. Graves is hearing in his mind’s ear, it’s haughty derision with an implied threat that, if he and his colleagues don’t mind their own business, those precious political contributions might just go away.
The disgusting part about this is that most people in Michigan don’t give a damn about prisoners and too many of us think prisoners deserve whatever they get. That type of thinking demeans us as Americans and should be rejected outright.
I truly hope that our state legislature doesn’t crumple under pressure from the private, for-profit prison lobby. These two important and bipartisan bills need to be passed and passed quickly. The soul of our state is at stake.