Ohio is taking baby steps towards improving food service in prisons served by Aramark.
The state’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC) has published preliminary recommendations for Aramark. Some of them are punitive and include measures that go beyond what other contractors might expect.
But others point to Aramark’s failure to do the most basic tasks required in food service.
Several of CIIC executive Joanna Saul’s recommendations should be routine at any establishment. I couldn’t believe Aramark hadn’t been doing these things in the first place:
Aramark should ensure that all food is thoroughly inspected by the Food Service Director or designee upon arrival.
Aramark should ensure inmate porters are maintaining a clean work area at all times in the kitchen. Increase the number of inmate porters in the kitchen if necessary to ensure the area is clean during meal preparation.
Aramark should ensure that each Food Service Director maintains a kite log to document inmate concerns.
All Food Service Directors or their designee should conduct performance evaluations for inmate workers to hold them more accountable for their assigned area.
There are also recommendations that point to Aramark’s reckless cost-cutting and profit maximization:
Increase the number of Aramark staff at the facilities to properly supervise inmates. Most institutions are expected to have 5-6 employees. Persons with prior correctional experience should be specifically recruited, perhaps through additional pay incentives.
Consider reviewing the Aramark contract and establish a higher daily caloric intake. This would increase the cost per inmate meal but it could also decrease inmate concerns.
“Most institutions are expected to have 5-6 employees.” I hesitate to ask how many people Aramark had been employing to merit this recommendation.
Aramark is a multi-billion dollar corporation that serves food at colleges, universities and stadiums across the country. It can’t even do basic food inspections and cleanliness checks in a small prison kitchen? Is Aramark’s food service like this elsewhere, or do they believe this is the quality of food inmates should expect?
Only three committee members — Reps. Beck, Hagan and Celebrezze — want to end the contract despite the seriousness of Aramark’s problems. Beck wants to punish Aramark in a variety of ways, but only Hagan and Celebrezze want the contract returned to unionized state employees. The Ohio Civil Services Employee Association is obviously on their side.
Any of their recommendations would improve conditions for prisoners, but the root problem of mass incarceration remains.
Ohioans spend $79 million per year feeding prisoners, but not because they are eating well. At just over a dollar per meal, per day, inmate meals are virtually guaranteed to fail to meet even the most basic standards of decency. The reason why it’s so expensive to feed prisoners is because there are so many prisoners to feed. You can’t trim any more from prison food budgets. Either we start paying to adequately feed these people, or we have to start reducing the number of them behind bars.