IONIA, Mich. (March 3, 2014)– After Michael Elliot escaped from the Ionia Correctional facility on Feb. 2, 2014 the DOC took a look at its policies and procedures and revamped some of them.
Now the spotlight is turning to the private company providing food services for Michigan’s 31 prisons, Aaramark. It took over food services in December 2013.
Less than four months later, the Michigan Department of Corrections is fining the company, citing security concerns.
The Michigan Department of Corrections reports finding 292 food and menu-related violations of contract and 12 instances of employee-prisoner relationships that were inappropriate, resulting in $93,000 in fines.
“This is just another means to makes sure they continue to meet their contract obligations,” said Russ Marlan, Spokesperson for the MDOC.
Aramark reportedly developed an action plan to address the issues.
However, the Department of Corrections sent a letter to Aramark, dated Feb. 25, saying,
“Indeed, an action plan was submitted on January 17, 2014; which indicated a plan to resolve meal substitutions and improper meal counts.”
It goes on to say, “However, during the period of January 17, 2014 and February 20, 2014 a total of 52 menu substitutions were identified to have occurred without appropriate authorization.”
“Additionally, during the same period a total of 188 menu substitutions were authorized.”
Then the letter explains how the fines are calculated for the meal mishaps.
“In accordance to the Service Level Agreements for Statewide Standardized Menu Substitutions, a charge of $26,000.00 will be assessed for 52 unauthorized meal substitutions.”
“A charge of $60,000.00 will be assessed for 240 instances that the appropriate number of meals were not prepared.”
Marlan explained that without meal consistency, prisoners get restless.
“If six housing units get hamburgers, and the last housing unit gets peanut butter and jelly…. it may seem insignificant in a hospital or a school setting food service area… but that`s very significant In a prisoner population,” said Marlan.
Marlan said there could even be a concern over fighting or riots in certain circumstances.
“Yes, it`s an important part of daily life to prisoners,” said Marlan.
The DOC took notice following a recent inmate protest when prisoners reported that Aramark ran out of food in a prison in the U.P.
“We had a peaceful protest at Kinross,” Marlan said, “They left the housing units and walked in unison. Thankfully we were notified about that before hand. We were able to prepare for that staffing-wise. Violence did not result,” he said.
Marlan noted that Aramark employees have also been caught engaging in inappropriate relationships with prisoners.
The state reports that from, “January 17, 2014 through February 28, 2014 a total of 12 instances occurred whereby Aramark staff violated rules….. ”
It went on to say, a charge of $12,000 was assessed, $1,000 for each of the incidents.
“Some of their staff were caught with notes from prisoners that wrote them notes,” said Marlan. “There was some inappropriate touching, one incident of kissing that we discovered inside of our kitchen facilities at one of our correctional facilities.”
“It`s a very big security issue and it`s the first step in what could be a very manipulative relationship,” he said. “You hold a position of authority over prisoners…it`s dangerous we`re not going to have it. We are not going to allow it.”
Aramark issued a statement saying, “We know from experience that start-up transitions of this size and complexity can involve challenges and we are committed to resolving any issues as quickly as possible. We have been working closely with our partners at MDOC and are confident that we will deliver the service excellence that is expected and deserved, while also achieving substantial savings for Michigan taxpayers.”
Marlan said it’s too early to tell if this will be an ongoing issue or if it is a symptom of the transition from a state-run food service program to a private company.
He said that bringing in the private company provided Michigan taxpayers around 16 million dollars in savings.