December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Lundy wants end to private food service contract with state prisons

Matt Lundy

Matt Lundy

State Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, has called for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections to end its contract with the state’s privately run prison food service staffing company, Aramark Correctional Services.

His request follows a February report in which the DRC indicated that Aramark failed to provide adequate staffing and meet sanitary regulations and dietary needs. Aramark was issued a $142,000 fine from the DRC on Friday as a result.

“DRC’s report reaffirms to many why there was such strong initial opposition, both in the legislature and the general public, to privatizing any part of our publicly run prison system,” Lundy said via a news release. “Instead of giving Aramark another chance to fail and further wasting our taxpayers’ money, DRC should terminate Aramark’s contract effective immediately.”

The DRC indicated that the company could lose its state contract for “persistent defaults,” but DRC spokeswoman Ricky Seyfang said there will be no other action taken at this time.

“The only thing that we have talked about is fining them,” she said, but added that the DRC will take Lundy’s statement into consideration.

Privatization of DRC’s food services was approved during the 2013 state biennial budget process. During that time, Lundy submitted an amendment to the budget process that would have prohibited the privatization of food services at DRC and the Department of Youth Services, but the amendment was tabled with little consideration, according to the news release from Lundy’s office.

“The system was working well before. Once you privatize something, it’s all about profit and not about the quality of services,” Lundy said on Monday.

The DRC’s report indicates that facilities, including Grafton Correctional Institution and Lorain Correctional Institution, have been suffering from under staffing and “unstable” food services.

The report notes that Grafton Correctional was fined for having no food safety certification and also highlights that dozens of Aramark employees have engaged in relationships with inmates, including documented sexual relationships, according to Lundy.

Lundy said data from DRC indicates that there has also been a spike in contraband since Aramark took over food services, including a case where an Aramark employee smuggled heroin into Lorain Correctional Institution.

On Friday, DRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the state believes Aramark is trying to improve things but that changes must be made quickly.

Armark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said the company is delivering on its commitment to save Ohio taxpayers $14 million this year.

“While we have encountered some staffing and operational challenges that are expected with such a large, complex transition, we are working diligently to resolve them,” she said in a statement.

Aramark’s $110 million deal to feed some 50,000 Ohio prisoners began in September and runs through June 30, 2015, with two opportunities to extend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.