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Aramark: Prison Food Service with a Bad Aftertaste

by John E. Dannenberg

Aramark, Inc. is a Philadelphia-based $10 billion/yr. Fortune 500 company providing diverse institutional food services. Its Illinois-based subsidiary, Aramark Correctional Services, Inc., (ACSI), which bought out Wackenhut's Correctional Foodservice Management division in 2000, contracts with 450 prisons and jails in 40 states, serving over 300,000 prisoners. In addition to food, it provides commissary services, laundry services, maintenance, and vocational prisoner training in food services. But Aramark's record is replete with allegations of making political donations to gain contracts, over billing on their contracts, skimping on food portions, maintaining poor sanitation, and offering poor food quality. Contracts have not been renewed, fines have been levied and Aramark employees have been arrested for smuggling contraband into prisons. This report chronicles Aramarks checkered past in 19 states and Canada.


At the El Paso County Jail in 2005, many of the 1,300 prisoners filed suit in the 4th Judicial District against foodservice contractor Aramark and the jail, claiming that Aramark's food fails Colorados statutory requirement for good and sufficient food for prisoners. Claims included repetition (turkey was served for five consecutive meals), spoiled fruit, and a 25% reduction in portion size beginning in March 2005. The situation was so bad that some prisoners were dumpster diving to retrieve scraps of garbage while tougher prisoners pressured weaker ones for their issue. Prisoner Michael Holmes complaint charged Sheriff Terry Maketa with standing idly by while Aramark shirks its responsibilities by serving unhealthy disease causing garbage.

District of Columbia

At Lorton Reformatory Maximum Security Facility, then prisoner Lawrence Caldwell frequently failed to receive his approved vegetarian diet. The meals, prepared by Aramark, were also allegedly prepared in a wholly unsanitary fashion. In 2002, he sued Aramark and D.C. officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, claiming racial discrimination by Lorton's chaplain Willie Caesar and Eighth Amendment violations for the unsanitary food preparation. The U.S. District Court denied both Caesar's and Aramark's motions for summary judgment and set the matter for trial. See: Caldwell v. Caesar, 150 F.Supp.2d 50 (D.D.C. 2001); PLN, July 2002. The case later settled for $50,000.


In July, 2001, Florida's Department of Corrections (FDOC) inked a $58 million/yr. contract with Aramark to take over food operations at 126 of FDOCs 133 prisons, providing meals at $2.32/day perprisoner. This was sharply criticized at the time because Aramark had just failed a similar program at Ohio's prisons. The Tampa Tribunes investigative reporting showed that in Ohio Aramark had failed to deliver the projected level of savings, served substandard portions, billed for meals it never served and after being the low bidder, demanded more money only four months into the contract.

A year later, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Aramark had saved FDOC millions of dollars. But the savings appeared to come out of the prisoners diet. One day at Madison Correctional Institution, Captain Hugh Poppell noted a particularly soupy batch of sloppy joes. To his horror, he watched the Aramark staff further dilute the entree even more with ketchup and tomato paste to make it stretch among the remaining 700 hungry prisoners. When Warden Joe Thompson investigated, he found that Aramark had shorted the recipe by 70 pounds of meat, along with all the onions, celery and green peppers specified. This was just one instance of malfeasance that resulted in Florida assessing $110,000 in fines against Aramark as of June 2002. While money was saved, it came at the price of dirty kitchens, late cooking schedules that interrupted prison operations, poor food quality and failure to follow the rule that every prisoner get the same meal. Serving the first 600 prisoners a whipped dessert and then giving the rest only an apple can cause serious security concerns or riots.

In Marion County, prisoner kitchen workers were ordered by Aramark to soak spoiled chicken in vinegar to take away the smell before cooking. Guards found out, and ordered 500 pieces of foul fowl thrown out. In Brevard County, inspections found horrendous conditions, including maggots on serving trays and kitchen floors. In Indian River County, the Aramark supervisor was sound asleep as prisoner workers struggled to prepare the pancake meal. Aramark workers were reportedly often late or absent, leaving guards to do their work.

In Putnam County, Aramark was infracted for serving pans of refrigerated food with altered dates, saving money by serving poisonous leftovers. And in Hernando County, Aramark made a spaghetti dinner using chili carne from the previous week and creamed chipped beef from the day before. The cream was washed off so the meat could be reused.

At Avon Park work camp, prisoners complained that pork roast portions were the size of a saltine cracker. Former Aramark employee Norma Schamens reported on how workers were ordered to scoop food from the pan so as not to fill the ladle. She was fired from her job in Gulf County. Hardee County prisoners staged a one day food strike over short portions. Aramarks short portions and poor food led to severe tension in the dining hall in Jackson County. In Walton County, angry prisoners yelled and rattled cell doors noisily to protest undercooked food. According to the St. Petersburg Times.

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) took further umbrage to reports of Aramarks food poisoning of condemned prisoners in November 2003. FADP posited a rotten connection between the food service reports and Aramarks 2001 $42,000 donation to the GOP when Floridas Republican Governor Jeb Bush privatized prison food services.

In October 2001, the Naples Daily News reported that Aramark employee Debbie Quashie bought cocaine from an undercover sheriff's deputy to bring it into Hendry Correctional Institution for a prisoner. Quashie was arrested and charged with smuggling and receiving a bribe from a prison employee. In April 2003, the St. Petersburg Times reported that another Aramark kitchen employee, supervisor Norman Mango, was arrested in a sheriffs sting operation in a supermarket parking lot in Zephyrhills. Mango had been handed 9 ounces of marijuana to smuggle into Zephyrhills Correctional Institution. Pasco County deputies were tipped off by FDOC staff.

Florida prisoner complaints spilled over in June, 2005, to include commissary overpricing. Six prisoners at St. Lucie County jail in Fort Pierce sued Aramark, following the lead of prisoner Coleman Sule, who sued the sheriffs office over the same issue. The plaintiffs objected, inter alia, to paying $4 for Suave conditioner and $.55 for a 3 oz. cup of Ramen soup. Their claims are grounded in Florida law requiring commissary prices not to exceed the fair market price of comparable items sold within the community where the facility is located.

Aramark spokeswoman Sarah Jarvis said it had conducted a market basket survey at local stores including Flying J, Pilot, Walgreens and Wal-Mart and found that Aramark's commissary prices were below all but Wal-Mart's.
Sule replied that only 20 of 219 issues were surveyed, and that survey prices were skewed because Flying J truckstops cater to truckers and are notoriously high priced. The prisoners sought refunds of alleged overcharges. An Aramark representative later testified that the company takes only a 5% profit, but is also required to collect a 30% surcharge for the jail's inmate welfare fund, which pays for GED classes, substance abuse help and a chaplain. In September 2005, Sule and the St. Lucie sheriff settled. Circuit Judge Ben Bryan found that the sheriff and Aramark had substantially complied with the law, but ordered the sheriff to have an outside agency and a review committee annually audit prices to determine if they were fairly set.


Chicagos Cook County Jail (CCJ) is another Aramark victim. Prisoner Martin Drake, suffering from ulcers, cirrhosis of the liver, Hepatitis B and C and in need of a liver transplant, sued Aramark in federal court for knowingly providing CCJ prisoners with food prepared in unsanitary conditions, including serving meals on trays despoiled with decaying food from previous meals. The complaint alleged improper food handling, preparation and equipment sterilization, practices which hindered Drake's ability to recover from his illnesses and caused an immediate and substantial risk to his health. Aramark had failed to rectify these concerns. He alleged under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his due process rights and violation of Illinois law (Ill. Admin. Code tit. 20, § 502.42 (2002)). Aramark moved to dismiss the complaint, but was denied. The court found that Drakes well-pleaded allegations described both ongoing injuries and an immediate threat of injuries resulting from Aramark's conduct. The court further found that Drakes complaint was properly brought under Fourteenth (and not Eighth) Amendment standards because Drake was a pre-trial detainee. The alleged facts of food contamination were found sufficient to constitute a deprivation so extreme as to violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, the court denied all of Aramark's motions to dismiss and set the matter for trial. See: Drake v. Velasco, 207 F.Supp.2d 809 (N.D. Ill. 2002). However, Drake failed to appear at court hearings after his release and the case was dismissed for failure to prosecute.

Notwithstanding the above atrocities, Aramark's $50 million contract was renewed for four years in August 2004. The Compass Group had intended to bid against Aramark, but dropped out, charging that insider deals and patronage made bidding flawed and biased in favor of Aramark. Compass vice president Michael Gaebel complained that the county delayed handing over necessary data to bid on and that the county had hired two former aides to Sheriff Michael Sheahan, John Robinson and John Maul, to serve as consultants on the food contract. Robinson, former under sheriff and an attorney had resigned after revelations that he had used sheriffs office stationery to promote an alleged investment scam. Maul had been acting executive director of CCJ. Compass noted Aramark's known unsanitary food processing and decried that Aramark is putting the county in a potential high-risk situation with it.

In September 2004, the Aramark contract was extended three months while county officials investigated the effect of the alleged patronage, notably, Aramark contributions of $11,240 to officials including county commissioners and Sheriff Sheahan. When only one bid was received (Aramark's), it was not opened, consistent with bidding rules, and a rebid process was declared to try to elicit competition. Meanwhile, rodents continued to feast on rotting food in meal preparation areas. Cook County Board Commissioner Forrest Claypool called for blocking of any award to Aramark because of CCJs denial of needed jail data to Compass to prepare a bid. Aramark bid $.77/meal, well under Illinois prison expenditure of $1.01 just to purchase food. Compass, a division of Aramark competitor Canteen Corp., implied that Aramark cut costs through lowered standards and deferred maintenance. In any event, CCJ prisoners will suffer the results until 2008.


Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced in May 2005 that by contracting with Aramark, the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDC) will save nearly $12 million/yr. IDC awarded Aramark a $258 million ten-year contract to provide meals in IDCs 30 prisons at $.99 each, instead of IDCs prior $1.41 cost. Aramark will use 298 people to staff its IDC operation, displacing 336 state employees. But Daniels said that all would be given priority in filling Aramark positions or offered positions elsewhere in IDC (albeit not necessarily at the same compensation). In November 2005, it was reported that at Indiana State Prison and Westville Correctional Facility, many employees took jobs with Aramark, and at the Michigan City prison, only 1 out of 26 left the state system. Prisoner workers will be trained in food service preparation as part of the deal.

When Aramark took over, letters to the media began flowing from prisoners complaining about the service and food. Some prisoners attributed the death of one of their own to a cell fight that began in the chow line. Tension grew due to the hours they had had to wait for their dinners, only to receive insufficient portions. Some meals were withheld as punishment. Aramark replied that the men were simply not used to its heart-healthy fare. Aramark also has contracts with county jails in Vanderburgh, Hendricks and Marion Counties.


Sanitary and storage problems in August 2004 were so bad at Wyandotte County jail that Sheriff LeRoy Green volunteered to close it down for a day to clean it to the satisfaction of Joe Connor, county health director. The juvenile detention center also supplies meals to adult prisoners. Serving a total of 450 prisoners, the kitchen was faulted for improper grease buildup and food storage. Cleaning is a responsibility of food service contractor Aramark, which is paid $669,000 annually. Subsequently, when bidding opened for food service at Winfield Correctional Facility and the Kansas Veterans Home, Aramark bid $1.60 per meal, well above the $1.25 the county paid Sheriff Bob Odell to purchase food, and who uses prisoners to prepare the meals. Other food service vendors will be contacted for future bids, said County Administrator Jay Newton.


In January 2005, Aramark commenced its $9.5 million/yr. contract with the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC) to feed its 11,000 prisoners in twelve prisons. KDOC spokeswoman Lisa Lamb stated that KDOC expected to save $5 million annually, significant for Kentucky taxpayers. But this 1/3 reduction in food expenses will no doubt be significant to KDOC prisoners, too.

Charles Wells, head of the state employees association, stated, We do not feel that selling off state agencies to private contractors is in the best interest of the public. While there might be short term savings, it could eventually cost taxpayers more. Wells was clearly concerned for his 81 displaced food service employee members (who were guaranteed another position in their geographic region at the same pay rate, or offered a job with Aramark), since he was aware of problems at other Aramark prison operations, including Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

In a non-food-service related Aramark embarrassment on July 21, 2004, state police and federal agents raided its law enforcement-equipment subsidiary Galls, Inc. in Lexington pursuant to a July 15 federal court search warrant. The agents seized handcuffs, helmets, listening devices and other law-enforcement equipment made by Galls which were destined for foreign shipments, albeit allegedly without proper licenses. 100 documents, including tapes and computer hard drives detailing Galls foreign sales, were also seized. The affidavit alleged that unauthorized shipments had gone to Macedonia, Jordan (destined for Iraq), Azerbaijan, Zambia, Japan, and Kuwait, some under a license number issued to Galls in 2001 to ship 50 sets of handcuffs to Denmark. Galls allegedly reused that same number on 1,199 separate occasions to ship controlled products to foreign countries.
The illegally shipped controlled items included bulletproof vests, riot shields, fingerprinting equipment and night vision devices. Galls is reportedly cooperating with investigations by the Commerce Department, Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.


The sheriff in Goodhue County contracted for laundry and food service with BEST, Inc. Food Service Management in 1998. BEST was purchased a few months later by Fine Host, which maintained BEST's food service. In December 2002, Fine Host was purchased by Aramark (ACSI), following which there was a steady decline in the quality and service received. Aramark changed many vendors, resulting in lower pricing, albeit at the sacrifice of quality of food served. Aramark's dietician eliminated many of the fresh fruits and vegetables, replacing them with baked goods. The result only nominally met Minnesota Department of Corrections (MDOC) nutritional standard, so MDOC enforcers investigated. They found that MDOC was paying Aramark $3.78/meal, including kitchen equipment amortization costs. But the original principals of BEST had started a new company, US BEST, and offered Goodhue County an equivalent price of $2.75/meal. The net reduction of food and laundry service costs using US BEST would run approximately $120,000 annually. For this reason, and the declining food quality, the Goodhue County Board of Commissioners (GCBC) terminated its Aramark contract in November 2003 and contracted with US BEST, according to the Minutes of the GCBC (October 21, 2003).


Aramark employee Kelly Jerad McCann, kitchen supervisor at the Cascade County Jail, was arrested there in October 2005 for allegedly smuggling drugs, tobacco and smoking paraphernalia to prisoners for a small fee. He was charged with felony transfer of contraband to prisoners. Guards became suspicious when two randomly selected prisoners tested positive for marijuana. Then, Capt. Dan OFallon noticed two prisoner money transfer orders to the same person on one day. One was payable to Jerad McCann, the other to Kelly McCann. The prisoners said it was for hobby material. A search of records showed five such checks made out to McCann. Two of the prisoners worked with McCann in the kitchen, part of Aramark's heralded prisoner food service training program. McCann confessed when confronted. He faces up to 13 months in jail and a $1,500 fine. OFallon stated that over 900 of Cascade County jail prisoners are smokers. When they cant get cigarettes (contraband), they save lettuce from their meals to smoke when it dries out.

New Jersey

In December 2002, Passaic County sheriff's deputies arrested Aramark employee Pamela Oliver, supervising cook at the county jail, for possession of a bag of less than 50 grams of marijuana in her work locker. Asserting his non-tolerance of illegal activity in his jail, Sheriff Jerry Speziale declared Oliver no longer welcome there.

And in June, 2005, Aramark employee Leslie Harwell was arrested for possession of heroin, intent to distribute and distribution of heroin. She was held on $50,000 bail.

Morris County jail guards learned that Harwell was able to do this because employees are not searched when entering the facility. They set up a sting by arranging for a sale near the jail, and promptly arrested Harwell when she gave the undercover officer the money. Harwell was selling drugs to kitchen prisoner workers whom she was training in food service.

But Aramark employee crimes were not the driving force behind Passaic Countys dissatisfaction with Aramark. In June 2005, Passaic County reluctantly agreed to continue its $1.45 million/yr. contract with Aramark on a month to month basis. Passaic officials believed that they could do a cheaper and better job. This was a complete turnaround from Sheriff Speziales 2002 pre-contract belief that by then going with Aramark, outsourcing food preparation would cost half as much as doing it in-house. Aramark was the only bidder.

New Mexico

286 of the 330 minimum security prisoners at the Los Lunas Correctional Facility refused to go to lunch on July 8, 2004 as a protest to the Aramark-prepared food. One prisoner reported that they had nothing but ground turkey for days. You cant eat some of this stuff. Another prisoner reported that the Aramark kitchen had been serving a soy meat substitute, which he described as tasting like cardboard. Both prisoners complained about a chorizo sausage, calling it inedible. New Mexico DOC spokeswoman Tia Bland said that as a result of their discussions with Aramark, Aramark had agreed to put more beef in the menus.

But the changes perceived by the prisoners were neither illusory nor accidental. A scant week earlier, on July 1, 2004, Aramark (which had contracted with New Mexico since 2000) signed a new contract for which it was receiving only $1.44 per meal -- $.20 less than before. Typical of low-bid food service programs, the savings were at the expense of food quality, nutrition, and ultimately the security of the prisoners.


In 1998 Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODORC) tested the waters of privatization of its prison food service with a two year pilot program for the 2,500 prisoners at Noble Correctional Institution, awarded to low bidder Aramark. Immediately thereafter, prisoners noticed substantially reduced portion sizes, consistent with Aramark's bid of $1.24 per meal. Grumbling prisoners threatened to riot. The problem snowballed when attendance (Aramark was paid by the head count at mealtime) fell in response to its poor food quality and quantity. Prisoners threw food; some boycotted the meals. ODORC responded by permitting Aramark to bill at the daily population count, not the actual chow attendance. This was done without any re-bidding or even amendment paperwork. From this sweetheart deal, Aramark pocketed an extra $1,478,825 as of March 2000 and over $2 million by the end of their contract in September 2001. When Noble's Deputy Warden Howard Wilson objected to the added payments, ODORC support services division Chief David McKeen told him to knock it off -- leave it alone. Haskins resigned one month later and retired when threatened with a transfer, bitterly ending his 21 year ODORC career.

The matter led to an ODORC audit. State Auditor Jim Petro found that the verbal agreement amounted to a 60% increase in the contract payments, a $2.1 billion overage on Aramark's original bid. The audit revealed that only 630 of Noble's prisoners bothered to take the Aramark meals, while Aramark billed at 1,000 of the daily population. So, the worse Aramark made the meals, both as to quality and quantity, the more money they made.
Specifically, Aramark was paid for 4,462,649 meals while only serving 2,803,722. The Ohio Civil Service Employee's Union, who wanted the jobs back, argued that they could provide better service for less money. Indeed, when Aramarks contract expired on October 31, 2000, they took over food service operations at Noble at a lower cost. See: PLN, Oct. 2000, Dec. 2002.

In April 2004, the Lorain County Sheriff's Department ended a contract with a local blind man, Rick Bryant, who had run the commissary for 12 years as part of a state program to employ the visually-impaired. The Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission was angered, having invested $50,000 in capital equipment at Lorain in hopes to attract visually impaired employees. Bryant was unceremoniously dumped upon the award of the commissary to Aramark, ending a 30 year history of visually impaired operators at the commissary. While state jobs are protected by disability preferences, county and local jobs are not.

When Aramark took over the food service contract at Coshocton County Justice Center in July 2004, the two former cooks were retained by Aramark at their former salaries. However, they lost insurance and retirement benefits from the county, and will suffer a 100% increase in their insurance premiums to keep them. Their past retirement contributions will be retained, but no new accruals will be allowed.

In March 2005, three Lucas County prisoners were hospitalized after eating what appeared to be metal shavings in their meal served at Correctional Treatment Facility, which receives its meals from the county jail, under contract with Aramark. Others reported the contamination, and the food was thrown away. It was suspected to be aluminum foil. A complaint was lodged with Aramark, whose contract was soon up for renewal amid other concerns about their food service.


In May 2005, Tulsa County commissioners awarded a $1.06 million contract to Aramark for the Tulsa jail. Aramark was lowest among five bidders.
Nonetheless, Sheriff Stanley Granz estimated Aramarks bid was still $42,500 higher that his own estimate for doing the food preparation with county jail staff. Granz is a longtime opponent of prison privatization.


Jackson County jail contracted with Aramark in January 2002 to run its food operations. Only three months later, Aramarks supervising cook Daaron Kiefer was arrested for supplying tobacco to prisoners in the jail. It was the first time any employee had brought contraband into the jail, said Lt. Jim Warren. The prisoner, Christopher Rocha, worked under Kiefer as a trustee in the kitchen for about $1 per day. Kiefer was instructed to bring the contraband inside when he went outside to empty the trash, retrieving the cigarettes from his car. Kiefer was fired.


In 1996, Raymond McCullum was a prisoner in Philadelphias Curran-Fromhold Correctional facility where he worked under Aramark contract cook supervisor Keith Smith. When Smith led a tour of judges through the kitchen one evening, McCullum piped up and said the food portions were inadequate. After the tour group departed, Smith took McCullum into a cold packing room and assaulted and severely battered McCullum. He sued Aramark and the City of Philadelphia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for damages. Aramark's motions for dismissal on grounds that as contractors they were not state actors, and that they were protected under the theory of respondeat superior, were both denied. See: McCullum v. City of Philadelphia, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), No. CIV A 98 5858. Eventually the case was dismissed.

Aramark was sued for $50,000 in 1999 by three black employees who claimed discrimination when one, James Royal, was fired for giving a bag of potato chips to a prisoner. This pervasive practice to motivate prison workers was widely known, but no white workers were ever so disciplined, let alone fired. 32 other black employees were awarded $20,000 each, after they filed discrimination charges or gave witness statements.

In December 2001, two Aramark contract food service employees were fired after they were implicated in the smuggling of a cell phone, battery and charger into the Allegheny County jail's disciplinary unit. Jail spokesman Chuck Mandarino denied that guards had brought it in, instead blaming Aramark workers. The suspicion came from the phone records that showed the phone had been used to call one of their homes the night before it was discovered being used by a prisoner.

Thirteen prisoners at Snyder County jail refused to lock up in February 2005 at the Snyder County Jail in Selinsgrove. They were upset that their personal commissary orders failed to arrive, and they were hungry from lack of adequate food in their Aramark-supplied meals. Four hours after police in riot-gear came in, Warden George Nye consented to give the prisoners the sandwiches they asked for, rather than risk staff getting injured in a takeover. Nye told reporters that a few months earlier, Aramark had taken over the food service. We had a heck of a menu before. Inmates dont get the extras, like ice cream, that they used to get. Nye said that Aramarks supposed 3,000 calorie/day meals were projected to save the county $100,000 per year. Police union representative Donnie Delvert opined that such budget cutbacks were putting guards unnecessarily at risk. The union also grieved the loss of union jobs to Aramark, holding up any renewal of Aramarks contract. The labor board ordered the county to rescind Aramarks contract, and reinstate the displaced workers, with back pay. The matter is on appeal.

Northampton County Prison came under fire in August 2005 when Easton Health Bureau inspectors found food stored in a bathroom, no hot water or soap for kitchen workers to wash their hands with, and refrigerators that could not maintain proper temperatures. The records, refused to the media by the city, were made public only after a legal challenge.

City inspector Ed Ferraro described the violations as so severe that, were they found in a private business, he would have shut the business down.
Acting Warden Scott Hoke played down the deficiencies, describing them as no worse than any other kitchen ... in the Lehigh Valley. The kitchen, serving 1,800 prisoners, is old and in need of remodeling, Hoke admitted, adding that the county just couldnt afford it. But they could afford Aramark, who is responsible for running the kitchen under contract. Hoke said that violations such as storing chicken and beef at room temperature or storing food in the bathroom would fall on Aramark's shoulders. Food in the refrigerator was measured at 73 degrees, which Aramark blamed on the constant opening of the refrigerator's door. (Normal refrigeration temperature is 37 degrees.) Aramark's spokesperson Sarah Jarvis said these problems had been fixed a year earlier, and that Aramark was pleased with how we maintain this kitchen. Ferraro stated that one year later, all the earlier deficiencies noted had been fixed. Source: The Morning Call.

The U.S. District Court dismissed Allegheny County jail prisoner Kamau Baileys 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint as frivolous. Bailey had sued Aramark for selling canteen packets of cocoa for $.30 each, when the packets were clearly marked not for retail sale. The court found no possible violation of [Baileys] constitutional rights. See: Bailey v. Clemmons and Aramark Corp., U.S.D.C. No. Civ A 05-963 (Sept. 16, 2005).

After the Dauphin County grand jury investigated Aramarks books (prior to contract renewal) following repeated prisoner allegations of watered down food and over-billing in its Dauphin County Prison food service contract, Aramark agreed in September 2005 to reimburse the county $65,000. County District Attorney Edward Marisco made no criminal charges, however. The $65,000 was for over-billing in 2002 and 2003, when Aramark charged for meals that were never made. Aramark had made the gain by charging a flat amount rather than using the required actual population served. See PLN, June, 2006 for more details.

Aramark won a $1.15 million/yr. renewed three-year contract effective November 1, 2005 at Lackawanna County Prison, after underbidding two competitors. Aramark will serve 2,790 meals per day at $1.13 per meal.
Nutrition, Inc. had bid $1.19 and Canteen had bid $1.26. Curiously, the new contract replaces their 1999 contract of $1.2 million/yr , and that figure did not include amortizing replacing all the kitchen equipment for $100,000. Not explained is what impact the contract will have on prison food, given increases in food, energy and labor costs over the life of the contract (2008).


Get it right or get out, exasperated Tarrant County commissioners told Aramark in February 2004. This 30 day ultimatum required Aramark to cook up solutions to problems that had county jail prisoners refusing meals. Prisoners were on the warpath, said Sheriff Dee Anderson after Aramark took over food service in December 2003, complaining about rancid food, unsanitary conditions and short portions. Aramarks contract, for $3.3 million, covers four county lockups. By its terms, if Aramark fails to deliver, it can be replaced by bidder Mid-State Services, which held the contract before being underbid by Aramark. County Purchasing Director Jack Beacham reported that jail administrators backed up the prisoner's complaints. There were 17 pans of pinto beans that had soured. We spit them out when we tried them, Beacham said. I had to take the suit I was wearing to the cleaners at the end of the day because you could still smell the spoiled beans in it. It was bad. Beacham saw one Aramark employee spill a batch of flour tortillas on the floor, then pick them back up and put them on the serving line. Sloppy joe mix (apparently a signature Aramark meal), was only maintained at 90 degrees, versus the requisite 120-150 degrees. Aramark's bid was $600,000 lower than Mid-States earlier contract, bidding $.88/meal v. $.96. At contract award, some commissioners questioned whether Aramark could serve proper food at that price.

In March, Beacham staged a surprise inspection at Tarrant County jail. They found prisoner meals being transported in a rented panel truck with dried spoiled cake inside. A stench came from the truck when it was opened. In fact, food oils had permeated the wood panels of the truck, rendering it unsuitable for transporting meals.

Push came to shove on March 9, 2004, when Tarrant County told Aramark to get out by March 22. Aramark resigned from its contract, and Mid-States regained its $3.79 million contract to serve 3,500 prisoners per day.
Aramark said it suffered only from start-up glitches. It would be more accurate to say Aramark's product was so bad it gave prisoners and officials a start.


Brown County Jail used to spend $2.88 per hot meal for its 600 prisoners, but under a January 2005 contract with Aramark, will only pay $1.18 per meal. Sheriff's Capt. Jack Jadin said that prisoners shouldn't see any significant changes, adding that they would continue to get cubed pork noodle casserole, a staple there. However, 16 of 34 county kitchen employees were displaced, angering union officials. Prisoner Anna Graf of Green Bay wrote, when the plan was announced, As I sit in my jail cell thinking of the $2.88 meal I just ate, I wonder what they could feed us for $1.18. Graf faulted the food for being starchy, fatty and a lot of filler foods. Prisoners should soon find out. Aramark's plan is to use prison labor to prepare the meals.

Aramarks Wisconsin record was tarnished by a salmonella-tainted spaghetti dinner in 2003 at the Winnebago County jail. Oshkosh attorney George Curtis represents eight of the ten prisoners in a lawsuit. The contamination was traced to turkey meatballs served in the downtown jail and a work release center. More than 50 prisoners complained of symptoms including diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, and dehydration, lasting for weeks. The state limits such claims to $50,000.


The Newport News Jail recently laid off four staff kitchen workers when Sheriff Charles Moore accepted Aramark's low bid of $.94 per meal to feed the 580 prisoners. Aramarks bid of $600,000 for one year was $100,000 lower than Canteen Corp.s, and included laundry services. The Sheriff projects saving $235,000 annually in food and laundry costs. But Aramarks low bid wasnt the only thing Sheriff Moore accepted from Aramark. Six months earlier, Aramark had given Moore four tickets to a Redskins game worth $320. Moore said the award decision had nothing to do with the tickets. Moore did declare, as state law requires of elected officials, the receipt of a gift worth more than $50. After serving them only $.94 meals, Aramark might score more points by offering to let the prisoners watch the Redskins game.

Aramark also has a contract with the Hampton Roads jail. Last year, Aramark gave $1,250 to Hampton Sheriff B.J. Robert's reelection campaign. Roberts was offered football tickets, too, but gave them to his friend Moore.


Aramark has Canadian and British enterprises, as well. In the Toronto East Detention Centre, an Aramark employee was charged in May 2000 for attempting to smuggle drugs in. He was arrested inside the facility, while delivering canteen orders to prisoners. Drugs were found in the cigarette packs.

Food for Thought

The purpose of imprisonment is punishment. The punishment is the denial of liberty. Inflicting detestable conditions, such as poorly prepared food, is not only constitutionally wrong, it backfires with added, not saved, costs. The real measure of savings as to such important prisoner morale drivers as food is not the bare cost of the meals as reported on some balance sheet, but on the ultimate goal of correction or rehabilitation to aid these men and women to prepare for a successful post-incarceration reintegration into society. Doling out short portions to goad prisoners ire, hiring low-budget workers who bring in drugs, making prisoners ill in the short term (tainted food from unsanitary conditions) or in the long term (poor diet that raises eventual medical bills) is truly penny-wise and pound-foolish. Aramark may have succeeded in whittling down the food service portion of prison warden's obligations in incarcerating prisoners, but by thereby putting prisoners' health, welfare, and safety at risk for the sole measure of food cost savings, Aramarks prison food service leaves a bad aftertaste in the mouths of both prisoners and taxpayers.

But, bad food or not, business is booming for Aramark. On August 8, 2006, Aramark announced it would allow itself to be bought by an investment group led by chairman and CEO Joseph Neubauer for $6.3 billion, plus the assumption of $2 billion in debt. This will remove Aramark from the list of publicly traded companies. Once the transaction is complete Aramark will again be a private company.

Despite a well documented track record of corner cutting, serving wretched products and corporate criminality, Aramark is doing a booming business with colleges and univerities and prisons and jails alike. The main difference of course is that students have a choice as to where they eat, prisoners do not.

Sources: Colorado Springs Independent, Palm Beach Post; Fort Pierce Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Herald, Indy Star, Heartland Institute, News Dispatch, Lexington Herald-Leader, Great Falls Tribune, Daily Record, The Record, The Santa Fe New Mexican, Columbus Dispatch, Lorain Morning Journal, Newport News Daily Press, OPSEU, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Nations Restaurant News, Toledo Blade, The Daily Item, Coshocton Tribune, Tulsa World, Mail Tribune, Private Prison Report International, Pittsburgh Team 4,

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