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MAGE Speaks out at Civil Service Commission Meeting

MAGE Speaks out on DOC Food Services Contract

MAGE spoke out loud and clear at the September 18 Civil Service Commission meeting against privatizing food services to the private company, Aramark.  MAGE President Al Quattrin told Commission members and the large audience who attended this hearing that the decision to privatize prison food services was “all politics”.  He cautioned them and the large crowd who attended to protest this privatization that “It’s not a question of if there will be prisoner disturbances caused by this change but when!”

MAGE attorney Brandon Zuk reminded the Commission of its constitutional authority and responsibility to “approve or disapprove disbursements for all personal services”. MAGE Second Vice-President Mike DeShambo said that Commission members should ask the right questions and should review the Cost Quality Improvement plan.  He raised the serious issue regarding whether the bid included the vital issue of providing security or not.  He also asked about the apples to oranges problem of the basis of the cost from per diem to per meal.

Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) testified that he had voted for this privatization when he voted for the budget bill it was in.  However, he had based his vote on assurances that there would be a competitive process, which did not turn out to be true.  He said that DOC staff based numbers on actual costs but Aramark used projected average costs, using the breakfast figures for February, the shortest month and the meal least attended by prisoners. At the beginning of his remarks, he specifically complimented MAGE for having compiled and presented a power point presentation to him and many policymakers last session regarding how existing DOC staff could provide food services more cost effectively, while making better use of Michigan businesses and local farm products.

Other legislators who spoke out eloquently against privatization included Representative Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), who has had a number of meetings in his district discussing this issue.  Rep. Cochran (D-Mason) also made it priority to come to the hearing and speak against the privatization.  Representative John Kivela (D-Calumet) spoke of the loss to local farmers and the safety risk, saying “There are three things that are dangerous to mess with in prisons:  mail, visitors, and food.”  MAGE deeply appreciates all of these legislators coming to the hearing (in addition to Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, who attended to address privatization problems at the Grand Rapids Veterans’ Home.)

At the hearing Mel Grieshaber of the MCO testified regarding the dangers to DOC staff and to inmates from brining in outside vendors, particularly given the likely high rate of turnovers.  Nick Ciaramitaro of AFSCME Council 25 and MSEA, detailed some of the questionable elements of the bid process and Aramark’s practice of providing security training through just five hours of computer training.

Other speakers at the hearing included a representative from the faith community who questioned whether the shift to a private vendor would actually save money.  He pointed out both the increase in security risk and the increased health care costs that may result.  Additionally, several Michigan companies, including Reinhart Food Services, strongly criticized moving this business out of state, saying that his company may have to close its Marquette branch.

What is next?  The Prison Food Contract is coming up before the Financial and Claims Committee on September 24 and before the State Administrative Board for approval on September 30. Our deadline for action is near.

Please let your state legislators and the Governor know that privatizing prison food services is pound foolish—and not even penny wise!  Please make these contacts before September 30. 

Audit Report on DOC Mental Health Services

The Michigan Office of the Auditor General recently released an audit on the Department of Correction’s (DOC) Mental Health Services (MHS). The audit covered the period October 1, 2009 through August 31 2012. Overall, the agency received positive reviews, but issues were raised concerning some aspects of its documentation and the timeliness of its evaluations. The audit found that the DOC’s effort to timely assess prisoners’ need for mental health services is only moderately effective. In addition, the MHS did not document or update all required individual treatment plans. Also, MHS did not document or update all individual treatment plans within the required time frames. However, the DOC’s efforts to evaluate the outcomes of its mental health program ensure that its mental health service providers complied with contract requirements and evaluate the efficiency of its mental health service programs were all effective. The audit had seven corresponding recommendations, all of which the MHS agrees with and has since taken steps to comply.