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Ohio Abandons Private Food Service Experiment

In October 2000, the Ohio prison system decided to abandon its controversial two-year pilot project to privatize the food service at the Nobel Correctional Institution (NCI).

In October, 1998, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DORC) awarded a two-year contract to ARAMARK Correctional Services, a private company in Oakbrook, Illinois, to prepare and serve meals to NCI's 2,500 captive consumers. The contract was plagued with problems from the outset [See: "Ohio Prison Food Contract Sparks Controversy," PLN, Oct. '00]. The meals served by ARAMARK were of such poor quality and small portion sizes DORC officials feared a riot at NCI.

In February, 1999, state officials met behind closed doors with ARAMARK executives and secretly amended the contract to allow the company to charge more than 60 percent higher rates in exchange for providing more and better food, resulting in cost overruns of nearly $2 million over the original contract.

When the state solicited bids for a new contract in 2000, ARAMARK and two other private food service companies submitted proposals. Another bid was submitted by Local 11 of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association; AFSCME, the union representing state workers. Each bidder the union and the three companies submitted proposals based on 60 percent, 72.5 percent, and 100 percent of NCI prisoners eating all meals.

At the 60 percent level, the union offered a proposal of $4.5 million over two years, $300,000 more than Continental Food Services, the lowest bidder. However, the union and Continental's bids were the same, $5.5 million, at the 72.5 percent level. And the union's bid of $6 million at the 100 percent level was $800,000 less than Continental's. ARAMARK and Canteen Food Services submitted bids higher than either of the other two. The state awarded the contract to the state workers. "We decided to convert to civil service (state) employees because the private company's bid was virtually the same," DORC spokesperson Andrea Dean told the Columbus Dispatch.

Peter Wray, spokesman for the union, said, "This explodes the myth that privatizing saves taxpayers money. Public employees can do the job as good or better than private companies."

Source: Columbus Dispatch

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