Prison food contractor overcharged on meals

State told contracter to bill for ‘test inmates,’ IG found.

The company that provides food service to Ohio’s prisons had to repay $57,000 in overbilling following an Ohio Inspector General’s investigation.

The state’s prisons contract with Aramark Correctional Services Inc. pays the company based on an inmate count recorded each day.

The OIG’s investigation found the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections incorrectly told Aramark to bill for 13 additional inmates each day at the London Correctional Institution, which added up to $57,192.64 in overbilling from Sept. 18, 2013, through Nov. 23, 2016.

The 13 inmates in the state’s computer system were actually test inmates, not real people eating meals, the investigation found.

Aramark credited the state the overbilled amount in March, according to the OIG report.

RELATED: State fines prison contractor $130K for food issues

Corrections officials have not yet submitted a response to the OIG report, but ODRC spokeswoman Jo Ellen Smith said the department is reviewing the recommendations and will provide a timely response.

“We appreciate the time the Office of the Ohio Inspector General has taken to conduct this investigation,” she said. “We have rectified issues noted in the report and will continue to address other areas of concern.”

An Aramark representative said the inspectors’ investigation was focused on the state’s actions, not the vendor’s.

Aramark has come under scrutiny for its billing practices in other states, which is what prompted OIG to investigate. In Michigan, the prison system paid the vendor $3.4 million in overbilled meals.

Ohio has contracted with Aramark since 2013 and the state has issued numerous fines for food shortages, sanitation issues employees smuggling in contraband and having sex with inmates.

Since 2013, more than 300 Aramark employees have been banned from working in Ohio prisons according to Smith.

RELATED: More than 100 food workers banned from state prisons

The state’s current contract with the company ends June 30, though the parties are currently negotiating a two-year renewal of the contract.

“The decision to renew the contract was made after thorough evaluation as part of the state’s standard procurement process,” Smith said.

Aramark VP of Corporate Communications Karen Cutler said the state acknowledged in the past that many of the cleanliness issues from years ago involved equipment not under Aramark’s control. Staffing issues are common in any correctional facility, Cutler said, and security clearances are routinely pulled for all types of employees, not just those employed by Aramark.

“We are proud of our employees who serve nourishing meals to 50,000 offenders every day,” Cutler said. “We look forward to continuing to deliver millions of dollars per year in taxpayer savings that can be used to fund vital programs in the state.”

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which previously provided food service at the state’s prisons, put in a bid for a new contract they said provided savings to the state and additional security.

“Those are things we can actually put a dollar amount on and show the savings, and the state consistently turns its back on those savings to subsidize the Aramark corporation,” OCSEA President Chris Mabe said.

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