December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Prison food provider again subject of complaints

Officials said about 1,000 inmates at a central Ohio women’s prison dumped their lunches in the trash after another discovery of maggots in the serving area.

Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith told The Columbus Dispatch that inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women at Marysville got rid of their meals Tuesday after a report circulated about fly larvae found under a stainless-steel serving line during a pre-meal inspection.

Aramark Correctional Services, the food service provider in the Marysville prison, also provides food to inmates at Grafton and Lorain Correctional institutions in Grafton.

State Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, a longtime Aramark critic, wants the state to terminate the company’s contract with the state. Lundy said Aramark’s problems aren’t new. He said they overcharged the state when hired to provide food services about 10 years ago, leading to the contract being terminated.

Lundy said Tuesday’s incident in Marysville is another example of the dangers of privatization. He said private, for-profit companies like Philadelphia-based Aramark seek to maximize profit at the expense of public health and public safety.

“Privatization really is ‘profitization,’ ” Lundy said Wednesday. “It’s all about the profit. It’s not about the product or the service.”

The report of maggots was the second in the Marysville prison and the eighth confirmed case in a state prison this year. The state has twice fined the private vendor, which took over the job of feeding inmates last year for violations ranging from staffing shortages to sanitation issues.

Aramark was fined $142,000 in mid-April, leading Lundy to call for the state to terminate its contract with the food-service provider.

In July, Aramark again was fined — this time for $130,200 — for continued staffing shortages, unacceptable food substitutions and shortages and sanitation issues, including maggots observed in food service operations at five state prisons observed in June and in July.

Lundy said he understands some taxpayers might not care about the quality of the food that prisoners receive. However, Lundy said taxpayers pay the bills when bad food exacerbates prisoners’ medical conditions.

Lundy said the fine is minimal to Aramark, an international food service company that made $13.9 billion in sales last year, according to its website. Aramark’s contract with the state is $110 million and runs through September 2015.

Numerous reports have documented cases of Aramark running out of main and side dishes over the past several months. Reports also indicate several days when Aramark employees simply failed to show up, cases of unauthorized relationships between inmates and Aramark workers and the reports of maggots.

Ninety-six Aramark employees are banned from working in Ohio prisons, according to the state.

Lundy said bad food has a big effect on prison conditions. He said it causes prisoner unrest, creating unsafe conditions for guards.

Lundy said when he runs into off-duty guards in Lorain County, they frequently mention bad food makes their job harder.

“We don’t want to be putting anybody’s lives at risk,” he said.

The seven prisons with the most problems, according to the state: Warren, Belmont, Noble, Mansfield, Pickaway, Lebanon and the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.

Reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this story.