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Officials say state employees improve prison food service

May 27, 2019

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Food service has greatly improved since Michigan dropped private contractors and put state employees again in prison kitchens, the Corrections Department says.

The kitchens are cleaner and more fully staffed, and the meals are more likely to be served on time, spokesman Chris Gautz told the Detroit Free Press .

The number of disciplinary “stop orders” dropped dramatically, Gautz said. Stop orders are issued for a number of infractions, including when an employee engages in smuggling or gets too familiar with inmates. A stop order leads to an employee being banned from prison property.

In the 56 months when Aramark Correctional Services and later Trinity Services Group ran the kitchens, Corrections had to issue 412 stop orders, an average of 7.4 per month. That’s now down to 1.6 per month, Gautz said.

“Trinity and Aramark both churned through employees constantly,” he said. “You had people with only a few weeks of experience showing the ropes to the newest employee off the street.”

Michigan privatized prison food service in 2013. It lasted until February 2018 when Gov. Rick Snyder said the benefits were not outweighing the costs.

It also followed a series of Free Press stories about drug smuggling, maggots in food and kitchen workers having sex with inmates. In one incident, an Aramark worker was accused of trying to hire a prisoner to kill another inmate.

While the contracts saved money, they were not worth continuing due to “challenges with staffing vacancies, turnover, compliance with performance expectations,” Corrections Department Director Heidi Washington said last year.

The union representing kitchen workers said it’s not surprised that services have improved.

“This is pretty much what we expected to happen,” said Steve Rzeppa, spokesman at American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 in Lansing. “This was pretty much our argument all along for why it should stay in-house.”

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com

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