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Michigan DOC Creates Contract Compliance Unit

On the heels of a controversy involving its food service vendor, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is creating a unit to monitor contract compliance.

As PLN reported, MDOC tossed Aramark Correctional Services as its food service vendor following a  highly publicized failure to perform.  Aramark, who had a three year, $145 million contract, had a history of problems, including maggots in the food, shortages of menu items and staff smuggling drugs or having sex with prisoners.  Trinity Food Services is the current food vendor with a $158.8 million three year contract.

Over the last year, MDOC spent around$250 million on about 185 service contracts.  According to spokesman Chris Gautz, MDOC has around 70 substance abuse contracts, more than a dozen sex offender related contracts, and about a dozen contracts with community service agencies for prisoner re-entry.

Such vendors, as PLN has reported, often fail to provide all the services contracted for, especially when it comes to medical treatment, which MDOC also contracts out.  “We need to better coordinate our monitoring efforts” across all contracts, with uniform standards, and training for staff who do the monitoring,” said MDOC Department Director Heidi Washington. “We have some significant relationships with vendors.”

To provide that monitoring, MDOC is establishing a 30 person unit by diverting staff rather than hiring new employees.  The unit will also conduct audits under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Critics of privatization inside prison say such contract compliance efforts are not fully factored into the equation.  The state auditor found on a December 2015 that MDOC spent about $2.1 million to monitor the Aramark contract from December 2013 to August 2015.

Effective monitoring is essential to successful contracting, and the costs of monitoring should be included into the net cost or benefit of the initiative says Michael La Faive, fiscal policy director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which advocates for privatization of public services.

“A contract can still save money with contract monitoring being part of it,” LaFaive said.  “The cost would be a lot higher if you don’t have monitoring.”

In the prison context, monitoring is rare.  Even where it has existed, the vendor is often “worked with to make corrections” because cost savings has always been of high[er] importance than performance. 

Source: Detroit Free Press

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