State fines prison contractor $130K for food issues

Vendor says shortages, maggot issues being addressed.

The private vendor hired to feed Ohio’s 51,000 state prison inmates continues to be plagued by food shortages, staff vacancies and sanitation issues, which led the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction this month to fine Aramark Correctional Services $130,100.

The state fined the vendor $142,100 in April for similar problems.

In testimony Wednesday before state lawmakers DRC Director Gary Mohr said 63 percent of the problems have been occurring at just seven prisons, including Lebanon Correctional Institution and Warren Correctional Institution. He said he is pushing Aramark to make improvements, closely monitoring performance, and has seen some recent progress, though not enough.

“We have to continue to get better. We are not ignoring this. This is a critical issue for all of us,” Mohr said.

Officials have documented the following problems: unsanitary conditions; eight instances of maggots, though three were staged; unacceptable food shortages, menu item substitutions and serving delays; and Aramark employees failing to show up for work, forcing DRC staff to fill in. DRC has banned 96 Aramark employees from Ohio prisons for violations such as inappropriate relationships with inmates and smuggling in contraband.

John Hanner, president of Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services, said, “We will continue to do everything we can to make this work.”

He noted that staffing has been beefed up, and there have been fewer menu substitutions.

Hanner said these issues have only come up in Ohio and Michigan — two states that have recently moved to privatize prison food operations.

Mohr said hiring Aramark has saved Ohio taxpayers $13.3 million in the first nine months. The $110 million contract with Aramark runs through June 2015.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the union that represents thousands of state prison workers, said hiring Aramark has led to security issues, inmate violence and hidden costs and food thefts.

“And it’s not just inmates stealing a hamburger here and there now. Now it’s cases of hamburgers coming up missing or 50 pounds of peanut butter being taken. Homemade alcohol or hooch-making has seen an uptick because the food is less secure. There have been reports of food service workers bringing in Suboxone strips, cell phones, drugs and marijuana,” said OCSEA President Christopher Mabe.

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