As if we needed it: More evidence that privatizing/profitizing prison services is an abject failure in Michigan


There are three things that should never be privatized and profitized. You don’t have to be an expert in public policy to know that when profits are on the line, the needs of those being served will be trumped by the desire to increase profits. The first of these things is healthcare. We’ve seen the tragic outcome of that in our country with millions of people who live without quality healthcare for the simple reason that they are too poor to afford it. This is despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act which was a huge step toward resolving the problem but doesn’t remove the profit-motive from healthcare in our country.

The second thing that should never be privatized/profitized is education. Michigan is the poster child for what happens when private, for-profit charter schools are allowed to operate with little oversight. Public schools are harmed and the outcomes for children are, more often than not, either no better or actually worse.

The third thing that should never be privatized and profitized is prison services. Prisoners are a group of citizens with almost no political voice and very few advocates. Even the most hardcore progressives rarely include prisoner rights in the list of issues they care about or work to improve. When prison services are given over to for-profit corporations, remarkably few people raise their voices when things go awry. Here in Michigan, Republicans have privatized prison food services and awarded the contracts to for-profit corporations. The result was predictable and predicted. The years-long scandal of Aramark, the first such company to be awarded a state prison food service contract, provides ample evidence of this.

After political pressure and public outcry drove Gov. Snyder and his administration fire Aramark, they didn’t chose to abandon what was clearly a terrible and failed policy. Instead they doubled down by replacing them with Trinity Services Group, Inc., yet another for-profit corporation. Their contention was that it wasn’t the policy or concept of privatizing prison services that was at fault, it was Aramark. Then the reports began to come in that this was, in fact, not the case. Trinity had the same sorts of problems as Aramark.

This week, we have even more evidence of this. TWO pieces of evidence in just two days, in fact.

First we learned that a Trinity employee was busted bringing drugs into a Jackson prison:

A food service worker at Cotton Correctional Facility near Jackson was fired and turned over to the Michigan State Police on Thursday after a search as he reported to work that day turned up suspected drugs, a Corrections Department spokesman confirmed Tuesday. […]

The discovery of suspected drugs on a Trinity Food Services worker is the latest in a series of such incidents since the state privatized its prison food service in December 2013.

Two days later, a Trinity employee was caught sharing photos and emails and then making out with a prisoner in another Jackson-area prison:

A food worker has been fired and banned from state prison properties after she was caught making out with an inmate inside a kitchen cooler on Tuesday, a Corrections Department spokesman confirmed Thursday.

After a corrections officer discovered the pair, prison officials determined the Trinity Services Group worker had also sent photographs to the inmate and had communicated with him using the JPay prison e-mail system, in violation of department rules, spokesman Chris Gautz said.

“An officer discovered the two in the cooler kissing,” Gautz told the Free Press. “The photos and JPay discussions were discovered after that.”

Snyder administration officials tried to put a happy smiley face on the whole affair:

Officials say such incidents of over-familiarity with kitchen workers and inmates — which are seen as major security risks — have declined since August 2015, when Florida-based Trinity replaced Aramark Correctional Services, which is based in Philadelphia, as the state’s prison food contractor. But they haven’t stopped.

Better isn’t enough. Trinity is having the same sorts of issues that Aramark did and the fact that there are fewer does nothing to refute the fact that privatizing and profitizing prison services leads to shoddy hiring practices that allows the wrong people to be working in our prisons and endangering the lives of other prisoners and prison staff.

The experiment has been conducted. We now have two sets of data by which to judge the results and it is now clear that the preponderance of evidence shows privatizing and profitizing prison services is an abject failure. Gov. Rick “Data Data Data” Snyder along with our Republican-dominated legislature need to face that fact and end the experiment once and for all.