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Government and Politics

Ohio lawmakers hold hearing on prison food problems
Committee is blaming a private vendor for food shortages, maggots and contraband in state prisons

Karen Kasler
Aramark President John Hanner says his company has responded to complaints and is being used by forces opposed to privatization.
Courtesy of KAREN KASLER
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There have been problems with maggots, food shortages and contraband in state prisons, and the committee that inspects those facilities is blaming a private vendor hired by the prison system.

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The head of the state’s prison inspection team told lawmakers on the panel that oversees it that there are problems with the private company supplying food, Aramark. They relate to sanitation, food quality and supply, security training, staffing and documentation.
This comes after reports of maggots in food, meal shortages and substitutions creating long lines, as well as the disciplining of nearly 100 Aramark employees who are banned from entering any Ohio prison for security violations such as bringing in contraband or having inappropriate relationships with inmates. 

Correctional officers complain of problems
A.J. Frame says he has seen the maggot problem firsthand where he works as a corrections officer at the Noble Correctional Institution in southeast Ohio. He came to the hearing wearing a T-shirt that read “Got maggots? We do.” He is worried the food problems will spark a crisis.

“A riot eventually," he predicted. "They’re already getting to a point where (at) every meal, we’re trying to break stuff up to keep them off the coordinators," Frame says. "I wouldn’t want to eat maggots.”

Terry Hollon is a corrections officer at the Pickaway Correctional Institution. He says there has been a large flow of contraband into that facility in the last year or so.

“We find heroin, we find cocaine, we find suboxone," Hollon says. "Now there’s more than one way to get it in, and I’m not going to say that it’s all Aramark. But we never had these kinds of issues previously.”

The prison inspection committee’s report says Aramark employees get only five hours of security training. The state has fined Aramark nearly $300,000 for ongoing issues at seven prisons, and that money will be used for more training of Aramark workers.

Looking for improvement
State prisons director Gary Mohr says he is meeting with Aramark on a regular basis to make sure it is following its contract or that contract could be terminated.

“The tipping point is, are we getting better or not?" Mohr says. "And that has to be the gauge and that’ll be the gauge that we’ll use.”

But Mohr also says that the prisons department has checked out reports of maggots in food and found that sometimes the bugs were put there by inmates.

Vendor says its errors are rare
Aramark President John Hanner also testified to the lawmakers that Aramark is committed to fixing the problems, but that they are very rare. For example, he says the food problems only occur in less than 1 percent of the 30 million meals Aramark has served, which, at 300,000, he admits is still a big number.

“It’s not a small number, but look, here’s the other point," Hanner says. "We wanted to represent 99 percent of the time, our people are doing a great job. You’re not going to hear that. Let me be clear about that. These are Ohio citizens that we’ve hired, that we are 100 percent staffed and these people come to work every day and do a great job under trying circumstances.”

Hanner says he is personally responsible for the Ohio prisons contract, and that he is confident the company has the problems under control.

Aramark says it has saved the state $14 million a year since winning the prison food management contract. The prisons workers union has been critical of the hiring of Philadelphia-based Aramark, which has also recorded food problems in Michigan and had problems with previous prison food management contracts in Kentucky and Florida.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Union says if the prisons department is spending resources to deal with these issues, it doubts Aramark is saving the state much money at all.

Listener Comments:

So you fine them..this has been going onand the law makers are aware of this issue.I have been told by many about the maggots and rotten food not fit for a dog that many inmates refuse to eat.You know this is a problem that needs to be corrected; you have contracted these people and pay them all this money for what; some one needs to over see where you are spending the money or I should say WASTING the money; prison or not these are human beings and the inmates are NOT putting maggets in the food.They know the Families know and you know whats going on.

Posted by: B. HOWARD (North Carolina) on August 13, 2014 5:08AM
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