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Michigan Resumes State Prison Food Service After Private Companies Fail

Prisoner complaints about Aramark’s food were numerous and disturbing (UUSC/FlickrCC)

In 2012, Michigan embarked on a program designed to save the state money on prison costs.
The move was partly a workaround to lower the cost of paying union workers $15 to $25 per hour down to lower $11 to $13 wages paid at private companies.

But the state soon found itself grappling with human rights issues surrounding food. The number of kitchen health violations began to soar.

Employees at the private contractor Aramark were accused of serving meals pulled from trash cans and rat-chewed cakes. Multiple inmates complained of maggots on food. Rotten chicken tacos sickened 250 inmates, sparking a lawsuit claiming cruel and unusual punishment.
Aramark employees faced accusations of sexual contact with inmates and smuggling contraband.

Since 2013, the state’s correction department issued more than 400 stop work orders against private employees, barring them from prison grounds due to misconduct.

Food problems were a major cause behind a riot in 2016 at one facility that cost $900,000 in damages, marking one of the worst incidents since the Michigan prison riots of 1981.

An audit found that another private contractor, Trinity, overbilled the state by $3.4 million.

In January this year, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared the arrangement a failure, and vowed to return prison food operations to the state on July 31.

Human rights advocates say the experiment serves as a cautionary tale against privatization in prisons as other states across the country look to cut down on corrections costs.

Read More:

Michigan’s Failed Effort to Privatize Prison Kitchens and the Future of Institutional Food (Civil Eats)

Michigan Governor Admits His Prison Food Privatization Scheme Has Failed (Think Progress)

Problem-Plagued Prison Food Contractor Gets Extra $35M From Michigan (Detroit Free Press)

Chad Bouchard

Chad Bouchard is a veteran reporter and WFIU alum who has covered wild and wooly beats from Indonesia to Capitol Hill. His radio work has aired on NPR, PRI and Voice of America, and his writing has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and Scientific American’s health magazine, Lives. He has also spent a lifetime gardening, foraging and eating weird stuff.

View all posts by this author »

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