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Audit Report Recommends Michigan Privatize Prisoner Food Services

An audit report of the prisoner food service operations of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) found deficiencies that increase costs to taxpayers. Amongst the recommendations to cure those issues was to privatize those operations.

The June, 2008, report by Michigan’s Office of the Auditor General (Auditor) was based upon on-site and record review at 13 of MDOC’s 51 prisons, which house an average of 51,165 prisoners. MDOC’s prisoner menu follows the Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

That menu provides male prisoners with an average of 2,900 calories per day and female prisoners an average of 2,600 calories per day. During fiscal year 2006-07, MDOC expended $46.2 million on food purchases and $37.2 million on food service staff wages, resulting in a statewide average prisoner food and labor cost per day of $2.48 and $2.50, respectively.

The Auditor said it reviewed the contract for food services that Florida and Kansas maintain with private vendors. For total food services, those states pay $2.65 and $4.14 per prisoner per day for comparable services that MDOC now pays $4.68 per prisoner per day. It was recommended that MDOC explore such a contract, which could save taxpayers between $10.2 million and $38 million annually if it obtained similar contracted rates as those states.

It was also found that taxpayers could save $295,000 yearly by assuring excess prisoner meals were eliminated. At 12 of the 13 prisons visited, 3,488 prisoner meals were served in excess of the prisoner counts for those prisons over 14 days. By implementing a computerized identification system at $16,000 per prison, the MDOC would realize cost savings.

Other ways to save money would be to serve vitamin-fortified drink instead of milk and providing less fresh fruit. While the MDOC rejected that idea, it said it would reduce the calorie intake for males by 400 and for females by 400 to 600, as recommended by the auditor. Finally, the report noted MDOC could save $272,000 annually if it eliminated kosher religious meals. The average cost to serve the 131 prisoners enrolled in the kosher meal program is $8.18 per day. Rather than eliminate that program, MDOC said it would continue to evaluate its methods to comply with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

The Auditor also found issue with food production. For one-third of the meals, food production was 110% of the prisons’ counts, costing $493,000 annually for excess entrees. In all, the total undocumented disposition of leftovers equated to $882,000 annually. Thus, food production and leftovers should be monitored and scheduled to eliminate waste.

In addition to recommending MDOC amend its procedures to allow prisons be allowed to obtain food commodities at the best price, the Auditor said warehouse controls need to be improved. It was found there existed insufficient controls to safeguard food inventory stored at warehouses. Annual physical inventories were often not conducted, the same person receiving and responsible for inventory did not ensure proper verification, and business offices routinely made inventory adjustments without justification. At one warehouse, the auxiliary freezer was next to an employee parking lot, was unlocked, and was not monitored by facility management or warehouse staff during business hours.

Finally, the Auditor found that prisoner food service wages of $4 million between 2005 and 2007 were recorded as administrative costs rather than food service costs. The MDOC agreed to adhere to most of the report’s recommendations.

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