Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

New Food Vendor, Same Old Problems in Michigan Prisons

A new food contractor maintained relative peace for the first few months, but in the face of poor meals, Michigan prisoners have staged a protest.

As PLN reported, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) was forced in 2015 to end its contract with Aramark Correctional Services after several protests and complaints over food quality.  

The privatization quest continued as a means to save money.  When MDOC operated its kitchens, it had about 370 unionized state employees.  The Aramark contract allowed it to cut those employees, but it also brought in employees with an incentive to earn extra money due to the low pay scale Aramark offered.

In the less than two years it had the contract, 186 Aramark employees were terminated for inappropriate relations with prisoners, such as drug and cell phone deals and even sexual relations.  MDOC was also plagued with complaints about food quality and quantity.

The answer, MDOC surmised, was a new contractor.  Over the first eight months of its contract with Florida based Trinity Services Group, it seemed to be working.  Then, in March 2015, prisoners at two northern Michigan prisons protested.

About 1,000 of the 1,300 prisoners at Kinross Correctional Facility refused on March 20 and 21 to eat meals.  Then, one wing of The Chippewa Correctional Facility staged a similar protest from March 26-28.  It got prison officials attention.

“It’s definitely something the facilities took seriously,” said Chris Gautz, MDOC spokesman.  “It is unusual in a high school or a prison, because there are different groups or cliques that form, to have everybody on the same page, it takes some coordination.”

Kinross prisoner Lamont Heard said the protests were bigger than problems with the food.  He said the complaints included diminished portions and a lock of substitute items for prisoners who do not eat meat.  He said the complaints to the warden included lack of ventilation and overflowing toilets.

The prison, which was formerly the closed Hiawatha Prison, has a dog training program that provides electric fans for the dogs but not for prisoners.  “You’re treating the dogs better than you’re treating us,” said Heard.  “It’s time to stand up.”

Other prisoners complained of watery food, especially the shepherd’s pie, a meat and potato casserole.  Gautz said MDOC is working with Trinity to ensure it fulfills the requirements of its three year $158 million contract.

A report from The University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and The Economy found “underlying weakness” in the practice of hiring contractors.

“This report further confirms what we already knew:  Privatization created food shortages and delays,” said Tom Tyluki, president of the Michigan Corrections Organization.

Prison profiteers are not subject to usual market forces, so they eventually lapse in staff and services to maximize profit.  Truly, it’s a bad deal for all but the contractor.  Sources: Detroit Free Press; Detroit News


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login