A private vendor in line to begin feeding roughly 100,000 prison inmates in Ohio and Michigan has a track record of billing for food it doesn't serve, using substandard ingredients and riling prisoners with its meal offerings, past audits in several states show.Grits had only heard of the company in passing before this story, but the blog Texas Prison Bidness pointed to a couple of Texas sites where Aramark has operated in the past. The company was accused of overcharging at the commissary at the Bexar County Jail in 2009 and in 2004 allegedly served unsafe food to inmates in Tarrant County. Offhand I can't think how to identify a current list of their clients without a whole lot of legwork, but according to their federal 10-K report (pdf) they have a number of Texas subsidiaries. Recently Aramark announced a major expansion/consolidation of their distribution facilities in Tennessee. Further, says the 10-K, ominously:
But some states say Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services has performed well.
The audits in Ohio, Florida and Kentucky found Aramark charged states for meals not served, changed recipes to substitute cheaper ingredients and sometimes skimped on portions.
A 2001 audit by then-Ohio Auditor Jim Petro found a verbal amendment to Aramark's two-year contract led the state prisons department to pay Aramark for serving almost 4.5 million meals rather than the 2.8 million meals it actually served. That added $2.1 million to the contract cost.
An internal audit by Florida's prisons department in 2007 concluded Aramark's practice of charging the state per inmate rather than per meal created "a windfall for the vendor" after a large number of inmates stopped showing up for meals, reducing company costs by $4.9 million a year. The review found the company was paid for some 6,000 meals a day that it didn't serve. Aramark stopped serving Florida's prison meals in 2009.
Kentucky's state auditor launched a review of Aramark in response to the 2009 prison riot at Northpoint Training Center sparked over food issues. Auditor Crit Luallen's 2010 report found Aramark overbilled the state by as much as $130,000 a year, charging for the meals of as many as 3,300 inmates that were shown through head counts not to be incarcerated.
Besides payments for unserved meals, the audits found Aramark sometimes substituted cheaper ingredients — receiving inmate-grown food against contract terms or substituting less expensive meat products, for example — without passing savings on to taxpayers. During an Ohio site visit, inspectors reported witnessing a "near riot" at breakfast when Aramark adhered strictly to its contractual portion sizes.
In general, states still saved money overall — the primary enticement behind the latest privatization efforts in Ohio and Michigan.
The Company is a party to various legal actions and investigations including, among others, employment matters, compliance with government regulations, including import and export controls and customs laws, federal and state employment laws, including wage and hour laws, immigration laws, human health and safety laws, dram shop laws, environmental laws, false claim statutes, minority business enterprise and women owned business enterprise statutes, contractual disputes and other matters, including matters arising in the ordinary course of business.Even for a big company, that's quite a list of legal actions to be embroiled in at any given time. In addition to prisons and jails, Aramark serves "healthcare facilities, school districts, colleges and universities, sports, entertainment and recreational venues, conference and convention centers, [as well as] national and state parks," said its latest 10-K.
See a related item from Prison Legal News about Aramark and its lead competitors in the prison food privatization market, a parasitic grotesquery of a business model if there ever was one.