Michigan Department of Corrections Foregoes Privatized Food Services
by David M. Reutter
After enduring five years of poor service, inadequate staffing and several scandals with its privatized food-service vendors, Michigan has decided to bring its prison services back into government service.
“As the contract with Trinity was approaching its end, we took the opportunity to re-examine our operations,” said Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Director Heidi Washington in a statement. “After discussing options with Trinity, it was determined it was in the best interest of both parties not to renew our agreement, we believe the department’s needs would be better met by returning to state-run food service.”
Since MDOC privatized its food service following a legislature mandate in 2012, it has watched the quality and quantity of food decline while the amount of contraband and other security incidents by privatized staff have increased.
Previous stories in Prison Legal News detailed the problems MDOC incurred after privatizing its kitchens. As we reported, prisoners were served food with maggots and items that were nibbled on by rodents at the order of the first vendor, Aramark. Staffing shortages and staff that brought in drugs or who had sex with prisoners were a regular problem.
It was hoped that changing to Trinity Services Group would improve the situation, but that failed. Despite changing the contract to pay Trinity by each prisoner on the count rather than by each tray served, Trinity was fined over $2 million for unplanned meal substitutions, delays, staff shortages and contract violations.
Prisoners became so disillusioned with the situation that they engaged in a riot and several protests. Bad and meager food “puts the folks that are incarcerated along with the staff in danger,” said Andy Potter, chief of staff and vice president of the Michigan Corrections Organization. “It’s a safety issue, to put it short.”
“There have been various incidents and things, but the main challenge is about keeping the positions filled,” said Washington. Low pay has been cited as a contributor to private vendors such as Aramark and Trinity being unable to recruit or retain staff.
“We’ve worked with a couple of different venders on that process” said Governor Rick Snyder. ”Their cost structures, a number of issues, I believe it’s appropriate to say the benefits of continuing on that path don’t outweigh the cost and that we should transition to doing that back in house.”
At least one legislator agreed. “When you try to privatize Services, it often means you’re getting a lower quality product,” said Rep. Jan Hoadley. “The idea that you can govern with spreadsheets doesn’t work because people are human beings and we have to make sure we are putting people first is our budged.”
The shift will bring back about 350 state workers into MDOC’s kitchens.
Sources: Detroit News, mlive.com, metrotimes.com