Mich. corrections workers warn privatizing food service could increase violence

Posted on: May 24th, 2011 by The American Independent 2 Comments

Image by: Matt MahurinThe Republican plan to privatize food service in the state prisons will increase the odds of dangerous and costly violence, corrections workers warn.

“One of the things you don’t mess with is a person in prison and their food,” said Tom Tylutki, president of the Michigan Corrections Organization, which represents state corrections officers.

For years the Michigan Dept. of Corrections has objected to proposals to privatize food service, arguing that private companies skimp on nutrition, which is counterproductive for an institution also tasked with supplying heath care to inmates.

Michigan spends less than three dollars a day to feed each inmate and past efforts to privatize have resulted in more costs rather than savings.

MDOC spokesman Russ Marlan said that the governor’s estimated $9.5 million in saving would come from the elimination of 300 full time state jobs.

Tylutki said that the plan, which has been approved as part of next years budget by both chambers of the legislature, is dangerous and misguided because it will increase operational costs by undermining security.

Prisoners are very sensitive to any diminishing of their food and even slight changes can trigger explosive reactions, he said.

Tylutki recalled a situation a few months ago at the Muskegon facility where an inmate’s concern over the size of a scoop of ice cream resulted in tension and disobedience.

“They put it on the tray instead of on a plate. The prisoner thought it wasn’t the right portion. That spurred an incident where several inmates refused to leave the chow hall.”

Officers at the facility had to call in the emergency response team, he said, and it cost the state thousands of dollars.

The same thing happened a little over a year ago at the St. Louis prison when they changed the size of portion, he said.

“It disrupts the whole operation,“ Tylutki said. “I don’t believe a private worker would have the same security consciousness. We think it is a threat to the security of the institution.”

MCO doesn’t represent the food service workers, but they say that as the police force in the prison they object to the privatization plan because it is risky to have a low paid, high turnover workforce inside the prisons.

“If a real bad thing happens, a chow hall goes up in flames … depending on how it is handled it can spread because prisoners move all over the place,” said MCO Executive Director Mel Grieshaber.

In Kentucky a chow hall did go up in flames after the state privatized food service.

In 2009 eight corrections officers and eight inmates at Kentucky’s Northpoint Training Center were injured in a fiery riot that destroyed food service, dormitory and other buildings and guards attributed the riot to dissatisfaction over the food served by the Ararmark corporation.

Officials have estimated it will cost $18.8 million to rebuild.

In a Kentucky House Judiciary Committee hearing on the riot last year, Rep. Brent Yonts (D-Greenville) called the problems with the privatized food serve “an issue of morality” and recounted claims of prison food that was allegedly contaminated with garbage, worms and human body products.

Florida also had problems with privatizing food service and with Aramark.

That state privatized food service in 2001 and the next year the St. Petersberg Times reported:

Though the company has saved money for Florida, its stewardship over the state’s prison kitchens has created a new set of concerns for frontline corrections officials, including: dirty kitchens that in one county produced maggots, frequent cooking delays that throw off prison schedules, food quality that often falls beneath expectations and a chronic inability to follow a state rule that requires every inmate to receive the same meal.

A 2007audit by the Florida Dept. of Corrections Office of the Inspector General found that fewer inmates ate the meals after Aramark took over food service, creating a windfall for the company which continued to collect payments for feeding the entire prison population.

The report also found that the company changed menus frequently and substituted less costly ingredients in recipes, using ground turkey instead of ground beef.

“If the Department wants to restore food service to pre-2001 quality levels, then a return to Department-operated food service may be the better alternative,” the report said.

Aramark withdrew from its contract with Florida in 2008, a year in which the company was assessed more than $241,000 in fines for violations of its contract, Prison Legal News reported.

Aramark already serves some county jails in Michigan and there have been some reports of problems.

In Macomb County prisoners were forced to eat cold meals for most of last year after a mold problem shut down the kitchen facility.

Aramark has spent more that half a million dollars on lobbying in Michigan since 2007, according to filings with the Secretary of State.

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