LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Corrections is just days away from announcing its decision concerning a food service contract with Aramark Correctional Services, according to recent statements made by Governor Rick Snyder. Aramark employees have been accused of smuggling contraband into Michigan correctional facilities, engaging in inappropriate relationships with inmates and failing to provide the quality or quantity of food as outlined in the company’s contract.
Speaking at Michigan State University’s Agriculture Expo on July 22, Gov. Snyder remarked that the department was undergoing a full review of the contract, and that a decision may be reached over the next week or two.
The Detroit Free Press reports that since the contract was approved in January, more than 80 Aramark employees have either been banned from prison property or fired from their positions. In mid-July, four workers were terminated from Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia for having sexual contact with inmates in the facility’s walk-in cooler.
State Representative Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) is the latest state official to speak out against the company, claiming the state’s contract with the company “only serves to further jeopardize public safety.”
“Once again, misconduct by Aramark employees has caused disruption in our prison system,” Singh said in a statement. “What started out as a few concerning incidents has grown into to a pattern of continued poor performance.”
Michigan fined Aramark $98,000 earlier this year, citing improper meal counts, unauthorized meal substitutions, improper relationships between inmates and Aramark employees, and lax security. In June, Corrections Chief Deputy Director Randall Treacher notified Aramark by letter that additional violations could result in a cancellation of the company’s contract.
Aramark, which has 30 years of experience in working with correctional institutions, is contracted to provide meals to roughly 45,000 Michigan inmates. The $145 million contract was awarded in December 2013 and was intended to save the state between $12 million and $16 million annually.
In March, Aramark Director of Corporate Communications Karen Cutler addressed the fines in an email. “We know from experience that start-up transitions of this size and complexity can involve challenges,” Cutler said, “and we are committed to resolving any issues as quickly as possible. While it is early in the transition process, we are confident that we will deliver excellent service and the taxpayer savings we promised. We recognize that training is vital to maintain a safe work environment and have voluntarily added to the 80 training hours required by MDOC to ensure our employees conduct themselves properly. We also share MDOC’s zero tolerance for inappropriate contact between employees and inmates and will be even more vigilant in this critically important area.”
However, in recent months the company has defended itself more vocally. An Associated Press article published via ABC News, quoted the company as calling the complaints “an ongoing political and media circus about anti-privatization" of prisons.
"We continue to make steady progress in managing the operational issues," Cutler told the AP. "The number of issues continues to decline.”