Aramark employee was ordered to serve rat eaten cake.Latest Aramark scandal shows Republicans' blind faith in privatization is half-baked
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has not gotten rid of Aramark, which won a $145 million state prison contract, despite a series of scandals involving drug smuggling, sex with prisoners and rat-eaten food.
If you went to a restaurant and were served rat-devoured cake, would you go back to the joint for seconds?
Before you answer, keep in mind that at least the dessert had a fresh coat of icing.
Still not doing it for you? You'd still call the local health department and get the place condemned?
Yeah, I'm with you.
Of course, that's exactly what happened last year in one of Michigan's prisons.
And that comes after workers were fired after "engaging in sex acts" with inmates and smuggling in drugs. Maggots were crawling around one of the prison serving lines. Prisoners have also protested over food shortages.
I know what you're thinking. This is just another example of lazy and corrupt government employees.
This is why Republicans have crusaded to cut their benefits. This is why their union contracts haven't included much of a raise in years.
Thank goodness we have Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP Legislature looking out for taxpayer dollars.
There's only one problem with that tidy little thesis. The folks doing prison drug runs, snuggling with inmates and serving up rodent-gnawed cake aren't government employees.
They worked for Aramark Correctional Service, a private company that has been awarded a three-year, $145 million state contract during Snyder's tenure. The state has already fined Aramark $200,000 for its workers' bad behavior.
Hiring Aramark also eliminated the jobs of 370 state employees who did not make headlines for putting rat-rankled cake on the menu.
But the Detroit Free Press also pointed out in a recent editorial that the bidding process was, well, unusual. Aramark initially didn't meet the state's 5-percent savings requirement, so it really didn't make sense to hire the company, which posted a $150 million profit in 2014.
But then: "Republican state lawmakers asked the Department of Management, Technology and Budget to re-review the contract. That analysis found errors in the first review, and declared that Aramark's bid met the savings requirement."
So let's get this straight. Initially, it looked like Aramark wouldn't really save taxpayers money. Then the state decided it would. Since then, the company has served up a steady stream of PR fiascos that revealed startling gaps in prison security.
And yet Aramark still has a state contract.
How many chances does one company deserve? In the business world, where Snyder and much of his team hail from, this never would have dragged on so long. Businesses can't afford to tolerate public embarrassments and security breaches, because customers will walk.
As it so happens, those being served by Aramark aren't free to do anything. They're prisoners, after all.
And so, as the Freep editorial wisely points out, one reason why Aramark hasn't been clipped is that people have an "instinctive belief that prisoners don't deserve humane treatment."
But there's something else that's going on here. The Aramark saga is a key part of an ideological battle.
Republicans believe that private enterprise can do anything better than government. This is true from hardline Tea Partiers down to alleged moderates like Snyder.
So they have no choice but to downplay or ignore Aramark's sins, because it detracts from this belief.
And it is a belief system, not rooted in fact. Our CPA governor, so fond of metrics, couldn't possibly invent any to prove Aramark is doing a bang-up job. That's why he also ignores that many charter schools perform worse than public schools.
Since the Reagan era, conservatives have waged a masterful PR campaign that government doesn't work.
But when confronted with the fact that privatization has its own serious problems, the conservative response has been decidedly unserious.
Previous Articles regarding the Privatization of Prison Food Service:
That’s the only word to describe the way Michigan has handled privatization of its prison food service. A $145-million, three-year contract awarded to Aramark Correctional Services is saving the State of Michigan about $12 million a year (at the cost of 370 state jobs).
But here’s what Michigan taxpayers are buying: Maggots in food prep areas and near prisoners’ food; employees engaging in sex acts with inmates, and the services of two enterprising Aramark workers who smuggled in drugs — one brought 39 packages of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and tobacco into a prison.
In less than a year as the state’s prison food provider, Aramark has been fined nearly $300,000 (more on that later), and more than 80 employees have been banned from prison property.
Worse, the “cost-saving” contract debacle points out profound flaws in Michigan’s privatization practices — and the kind of pressure lawmakers and state officials might exert to push and retain a questionable deal.
Critics of privatization say the state’s guidelines focus on only one thing: Whether privatization will save the state at least 5%, with no focus on quality. They’re absolutely right.
The problem is that as guardians of the public trust, state officials owe citizens a lot more. Considerations about how services are delivered matter. So do thoughtful analyses of whether a private contractor is sufficiently sensitive to the goal of the public service they’re seeking to provide.
Too often, privatization is an ideological darling, waltzed into budget negotiations predicated on the idea that government is inherently inefficient and burdened by bureaucracy. But free-market lust is dangerously dismissive of the very purpose of some government services — like prisons, for instance — whose operations require attention to social and cultural imperatives that don’t show up in a balance sheet.
Saving money shouldn’t be done at the cost of prisoners’ safety. And it should never, ever mean placing predators — sexual, drug-related or otherwise — into a correctional environment that is supposed to respect a sense of rehabilitation.
Aramark is a poster child for failure on those counts.
It’s also true that the company’s financial “savings” are questionable.
Aramark’s first bid for the prison food contract was rejected when it didn’t meet the state’s 5% cost-savings threshold. But at Republican state lawmakers’ urging, the Department of Technology, Management and Budget re-reviewed the contract and found that “errors” were made in the analysis, meaning the state could move forward.
After the initial review, one change that Aramark made to the contract was a promise to train its workers to pat-down prisoners, cutting down on the number of state corrections officers required per shift. That hasn’t happened. Further, since Aramark took over, state wardens says they’ve had to assign additional corrections officers to prison kitchens to keep order.
Now, about those fines — Dan Heyns, the director of the state Department of Corrections, said he would “delay or cancel” one $98,000 fine, giving Aramark time to correct its deficiencies in response to an e-mail from Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore. He asked Heyns, “Do we need to get (a) drink?”
We say again: Huh.
Prisoners may not elicit much public sympathy — there’s a certain segment of the population that feels nothing is too awful for those serving time.
Veterans tend to be a different story.
AFSCME officials complained last year after about 150 nursing aide jobs at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans were privatized. Veterans and state workers told the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which oversees outsourcing, that the J2S Group didn’t provide enough staffers, and that those working weren’t properly trained. The commission received an update this week — there are still staff shortages.
There’s nothing wrong, in theory, with private contractors providing public services. But the measure for the wisdom of pursuing that kind of outsourcing needs to be particular, and strictly enforced.
Obviously, in Michigan, it hasn’t been. Aramark seems to prove that more with each sordid revelation about its stewardship of prison food services.
The state could cancel its Aramark contract (with no financial penalty to the state if the contract is canceled for cause). But that won’t prevent this kind of thing from happening again.
Only exacting management from state officials and lawmakers can do that.
It’s good to save money. But not at any price. And then this bizarre story comes out:
Aramark prison worker suspected in attempted hired hit
First it was drug smuggling and sex acts with inmates. Now it's murder for hire. An Aramark Correctional Services food service worker at Kinross Correctional Facility in the eastern Upper Peninsula is suspected of approaching an inmate there about arranging to have another inmate killed, a Michigan State Police official confirmed Wednesday.
Det.-Sgt. Michael Schroeder of the Michigan State Police Sault Ste. Marie post told the Free Press Wednesday police have sent a warrant request to the Chippewa County Prosecutor's Office following a lengthy investigation and are awaiting a response.
An inmate complained in July that a food service worker approached him about arranging to kill an inmate held at another facility, in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, Schroeder said. The worker was placed on a Corrections Department "stop order" — banning him from prison property — but has not been arrested pending the conclusion of the investigation, Schroeder said. He declined to release further details, saying "it's still being investigated."
Corrections Department spokesman Russ Marlan confirmed an Aramark employee was banned from Kinross for "alleged criminal behavior," but would not comment further. Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said she would not comment on an active police investigation.
The $145-million, three-year contract with Philadelphia-based Aramark has been the subject of ongoing controversy since the company took over statewide prison kitchen operations on Dec. 8, displacing about 370 state employees.
The state fined Aramark $98,000 in March for food shortages, unauthorized menu substitutions and over-familiarity between kitchen workers and inmates, and another $200,000 in August after problems persisted. But the state recently confirmed it quietly waived the March fine soon after it was imposed, and Aramark never paid it.
There have been two incidents of Aramark employees arrested for trying to smuggle drugs into state prisons to supply inmates and several instances in which Aramark workers and inmates have been caught engaging in sex acts.
Democrats and a few Republicans have called on Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to cancel the contract. Snyder said recently he has set up a new contract monitoring system and the problems are being addressed.
"This is bizarre," Michigan Corrections Organization Executive Directer Mel Grieshaber said of the latest controversy.
Previous Stories on the Aramark Contract:
State Cancels a Fine against Aramark
The Michigan Department of Corrections canceled a $98,000 fine against Aramark Correctional Services months before the Snyder administration announced another $200,000 fine for the private prison food vendor.
An MDOC spokesperson on Thursday told The Detroit Free Press that the original fine, levied in March for various contract violations involving meals and improper contact with inmates, “never was paid.”
The acknowledgement followed the release of an email thread between Gov. Rick Snyder's Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore and MDOC Director Dan Heyns, who wrote on March 13 that he would “tone down my attack dogs, delay or cancel any fines and give Aramark time to solve the problems.”
The emails, obtained by Progress Michigan through a Freedom of Information Act request, began with Muchmore forwarding a news story about lawmaker concerns with violations by Aramark, which won a three-year $145 million contract with the state in late 2013.
“Do you feel you’ve got this under control?” Muchmore asked, suggesting the “attacks” were initiated by union groups, ostensibly upset that the state privatized a service previously performed in-house.
A subsequent email from Muchmore was redacted by the state, according to Progress Michigan, before Heyns said he would cancel any fines.
“We were concerned about losing control of a joint and told them repeatedly with no improvement,” Heyns wrote. “Our corrective action was too harsh.”
The original fines, detailed in a series of letters from MDOC to Aramark earlier this year, were expected to be paid within 30 days. Up until this week, it was not known that MDOC canceled the fines.
Snyder administration spokesperson Sara Wurfel said the email exchange was “simply a request to ease off escalating the tension and work toward identifying the cause of issues and finding resolution.”
“The contract and food service operations was clearly an issue — problems had been identified on both sides of the relationship and getting that situation fixed, along with safety and security at the state’s correctional institutions, was a top priority,” she said.
Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group that released the emails, had a different interpretation. The exchange, the group said, “shows the top levels of Snyder’s administrations pulling strings in the early stages of Aramark’s public blunders” and confirmed fears about prison safety.
"For months, we were led to believe this fine had been levied and that it was part of holding Aramark accountable, and then we find out it hadn’t been levied," said spokesperson Sam Inglot. "It’s a questionable action from this administration."
Snyder last month announced a $200,000 fine against Aramark and said the company would be required to redesign its current training and staffing procedures in coordination with MDOC.
Using that fine money, Snyder this week hired a new independent monitor to act as a liaison between the state and Aramark. Ed Buss, former chief of prisons in Florida and Indiana, will make $160,000 as the Senior Advisor for Contract Oversight.
Buss has extensive experience in corrections, but critics have also questioned his hire. He was reportedly forced out after six months on the job in Florida following contract clashes with Gov. Rick Scott, including concerns that initial health care privatization bids would have benefited a consultant whom Buss had hired.
Update: Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer on Friday blasted Snyder's handling of the Aramark contract, saying the governor should apologize for failing to note the original fine was cancelled and release the redacted email.
“The governor’s chief of staff himself cleared the way for special treatment for a contractor that’s shown gross incompetence every step of the way … When you’re governor, the buck stops with you.”
Governor's office will provide oversight of the Aramark Contract:
Aramark will continue providing food service in state prisons, but oversight of the contract will move to the Executive Office under a plan unveiled Friday.
Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement that both the company and the contractor had made mistakes and the oversight from his office directly would help to overcome that.
"One of our main goals has always been to run state government and state services in the most efficient way possible," Mr. Snyder said in a statement. "To that end, we are on pace to save Michigan taxpayers $14 million per year by implementing the existing contract between the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Aramark Correctional Services."
Both sides, then would be making changes to be sure the contract can be followed, Mr. Snyder said.
"Although Aramark is responsible for its share of problems, they are not responsible for every issue that has been raised in recent months," the department said in a statement. "We investigated recent allegations connecting Aramark's services to inmate illnesses and pests. We determined none of these incidents were caused by Aramark. Despite heavy scrutiny and challenges, Aramark has served more than 20 million meals through July with great efficiency. We are pleased with the new process for tracking Aramark's performance going forward and will work closely with the company to make sure this partnership is a success."
On Aramark's side, it would be required to revise its training and staffing procedures. A key source of fines and complaints has been improper behavior by Aramark employees, particularly over familiarity with inmates.
Spokesperson Russ Marlan said the department has issued stop orders, which bars people from entering prison facilities, against more than 90 Aramark employees since the contract began. The contract calls for it to have 340 employees system-wide.
Karen Cutler, spokesperson for Aramark, did not know exactly how many employees the company had in the prisons currently, but acknowledged the stop orders were a high percentage of that number.
She said, though, that there is no way to know if that is a change from when state workers ran the system.
"You don't know if that percentage of stop orders is high because the DOC didn't keep baseline information," she said.
Aramark employees also do not have the appeal rights to those orders that state workers had, she said. They are immediately fired and banned from the facility.
Corrections officers have complained that they and other prison employees have had to make up for Aramark worker shortages, interfering with their own duties.
But Mr. Marlan said Aramark has responded back on occasion that Corrections employees have created an unwelcoming work environment for the new food services workers.
"Aramark's not receiving the help or assistance or cooperation from our staff because there's a feeling that they don't want this to work," he said.
It was that atmosphere that generated the desire for new contract monitors. "[C]urrently the contract is evaluated by 8 former state food workers who were displaced by outsourcing," the company said in its statement.
The source of those monitors has been a point of concern, Mr. Marlan agreed. "The people that we hired to be contract monitors were almost all former food service workers," he said. "Not to say that there was any proof of uncooperativeness or sabotage."
A $200,000 fine to Aramark for its most recent contract violations would fund the changes in contract oversight. In addition to top contract oversight moving to the Executive Office, the will be appointing independent contract monitors to oversee everyday performance.
The change will also mean new measures to evaluate performance.
The company has also been cited for running short of food and having to make unauthorized menu changes.
The state did not take responsibility for those shortages, but will be redesigning its warehouse system to accommodate the contract. The company noted that the current system prevents it from having full control over food distribution among the prisons.
An investigation found the company was not, though, responsible for recent illness outbreaks in prison, nor was it at fault for maggots found in food areas on several recent occasions.
Mr. Marlan said the food spoilage issues were more a function of the overall storage and transport of food within the prison system than any particular source or actor.
"We greatly appreciate that the MDOC investigated all recent allegations connecting Aramark to inmate illnesses and pests and determined that none of these incidents were caused by our company," John Hanner, president of the company, said in a statement. "We also appreciate the recognition by the state that there have been errors made on both sides. We fully acknowledge that our performance has not always been perfect and are committed to continuing to improve."
Union officials, who had been pushing for the state to drop the contract and return to state employees providing the service, were expectedly disappointed by the announcement.
"Rather than do the right thing and cancel the state's contract with Aramark, Governor Snyder has decided to invest even more public resources into this failed privatization venture," Hugh Madden, communications director for Progress Michigan, said in a statement. "Governor Snyder needs to end this experiment and admit he made a mistake by hiring Aramark in the first place. Any future mistakes made by Aramark will fall squarely on the governor's shoulders. Our 'Tough Nerd' governor has once again shown that he favors corporations over good government."
Mel Grieshaber, executive director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, which represents corrections officers, said the fine involved in the final settlement was insufficient. "MCO is very disappointed, and we are concerned problems with the private vendor will remain,", he said. "To impose a $200,000 fine on the company is simply a slap on the wrist within the context of a $145 million contract".
Previous Aramark Updates -
In a development a state government spokesman described as “unprecedented,” four Aramark prison workers at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia were fired Wednesday for having inappropriate sexual contact with inmates inside a walk-in cooler, a Corrections Department official confirmed.
Critics said the latest development in the 7-month-old Aramark saga should be the last straw for the Philadelphia-based company, whose performance has been plagued with hundreds of problems — including food shortages and kitchen maggots — since it displaced 370 state workers and took over the job of providing three meals a day to about 43,000 state prisoners.
The latest firings also mean more than 80 Aramark workers have now been banned from prison property for various infractions — through a mechanism the Corrections Department calls stop orders — since the company took over.
State Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, joined the chorus Wednesday of those calling for an end to the contract. “Once again, misconduct by Aramark employees have caused disruption in our prison system,” Singh said in a news release.
“What started out as a few concerning incidents has grown into to a pattern of continued poor performance. The result of this failed privatization policy is more than 80 Aramark employees have been banned from correction facilities for their transgressions,” and “all of this leads to dangerous conditions for our corrections officers and ultimately the general public.”
Other Aramark Updates —
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said today the state should rebid its contract for prison food services, given ongoing problems with the existing contractor, as unions stepped up pressure on Gov. Rick Snyder to return the work to state government employees.
“I’d put it back up for bid,” Richardville, R-Monroe, said of the 7-month-old contract with Aramark Correctional Services of Philadelphia, during a taping of the public affairs program “Off the Record” on WKAR-TV.
“You talk about maggots and food: if that was happening in a restaurant, would you go back to the restaurant?” Richardville asked.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re prisoners or who they are, people don’t deserve that type of treatment.”
The Free Press reported June 30 that officials found maggots on a meal line near serving trays at Parnall Correctional Facility near Jackson, where more than 100 prisoners fell ill. The Free Press reported July 2 that maggots were discovered in potatoes at a second Michigan prison, the Charles E. Egeler Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson.
There also were reports this week of maggots found in Ohio prisons where Aramark took over food service in September. Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler issued a statement Wednesday suggesting the company is suspicious about the timing of those discoveries.
“Over the last 38 years, Aramark has served billions of meals to millions of inmates at hundreds of correctional facilities around the country and never encountered sudden incidences like those reported in two states in the span of one week,” Cutler said.
“Each corrections system is operated independently and the only common denominator is that both of them recently privatized their food services in a decision that has drawn criticism from some special interest groups.”
But besides the maggot incidents, there have been ongoing issues with meal shortages, menu substitutions and issues such as Aramark employees smuggling contraband or getting too friendly with prisoners. The state has said canceling the $145-million, three-year contract is a possibility, and on July 1 began strict enforcement of the portions of the contract related to meal shortages and menu substitutions after fining Aramark $98,000 in March for contract violations.
Department of Corrections To Aramark: Grace Period Is Over
The Department of Corrections has warned Aramark that it will strictly
Previous Articles on this subject:
enforce the contract between the two to provide food service in the state's
prisons as officials grow increasingly concerned about food shortages and
other problems that continue to linger six months into the contract.
On June 6, Corrections Chief Deputy Director Randall Treacher sent a letter
to Aramark notifying officials that any further contract violations after
July 1 could result in actions by the state in accordance with the contract.
Further violations could result in the state terminating the contract,
Corrections spokesperson Russ Marlan said.
"The purpose of this letter is to communicate to you the Michigan Department
of Corrections' intentions regarding the above referenced contract," Mr.
Treacher wrote. "As you are aware, the great number of (1) unapproved menu
substitutions (those not approved in advance) and (2) serving shortages that
have occurred since December 8, 2013, has been problematic. This situation
has continued to require facilities to devote attention to food service that
should be focused on the safe and secure operation of our prisons."
In March, the department fined Aramark $98,000 for improper meal
substitutions and overfamiliarity between food service staff and inmates.
Mr. Marlan said there was some improvement afterward, but problems remain
and the concern level in the department is high.
Aramark's operations are under high scrutiny because the department laid off
state employees who previously had handled food service with the promise
that Aramark could provide the function for less money. So far it has cost
the state less, but outsourcing the service has come with many serious
Mr. Marlan confirmed one incident that the Michigan Corrections
Organization, the union of corrections officers, reported earlier this
month, that one of the meal halls at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional
Facility was riven with mice and fruit flies and had to close temporarily
for workers to clean up the situation.
"Aramark staff are responsible for the sanitary conditions inside of those
kitchens," Mr. Marlan said.
In another incident, at the St. Louis Correctional Facility, prisoners began
getting angry and acting out after a food shortage, Mr. Marlan said. As a
Level IV facility, the prisoners were still in their cells, but corrections
officers had to use gas to restore order.
"That whole incident was surrounding the food," Mr. Marlan said.
Prison wardens are voicing concern to Corrections Director Dan Heyns, Mr.
Fixing the problems is critical with the summer underway and temperatures
"As we're moving more into the hot time of the year, that historically and
traditionally has been a time of concern for us when you have large numbers
of prisoners housed in hot environments," Mr. Marlan said. "Everyone's a
little more on edge when the summer heat kicks in."
"We've tried to work with them and give them time and increased
communications," Mr. Marlan said. "We've taken a number of steps to help
them transition and not strictly enforce every element from day one. Now
we've decided they've had enough time to transition."
Mel Grieshaber, executive director of MCO, said he is perplexed why it took
Corrections this long to put Aramark on notice. He called for the department
to "draw a deep line in the sand." "It's about time," he said. "They're lucky they've gotten five, six months
here ... without anything very, very bad happening in one of these facilities."
Commission Splits On Corrections Food Service Challenge
A split on the Civil Service Commission allowed the Department of Corrections to continue its contract for food services, and commissioners indicated a request to review those contracting rules would face a similar split.
Commission Chair Thomas Wardrop (I-Grand Rapids) and member James Barrett (R-Perry) declined an appeal
by state employee unions of the approval of the contract.
The two found that a technical review officer was correct that the contract would save more than the 5 percent threshold required to allow a contract.
In addition to questioning the savings, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 and the Michigan Association of Governmental Employees (a limited recognition organization for supervisors) both argued those savings would come from cutting pay and benefits for workers.
Please review this news article for more information: http://View the complete article at http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/201405071845/NEWS06/305070181
MAGE will continue to monitor and fight theses privatization efforts.