Sunday, July 21, 2013

Private food vendor allegedly skimped on portions, switched to substandard ingredients, billed for unserved food

AP had a story last week (July 14) about a company called Aramark, a private food vendor specializing in correctional settings. The article opened:
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.

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.
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:
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.


Anonymous said...

I was once told by an Aramark rep that when feeding county prisoners, meals were less than a dollar a serving. Try that one at home!

Been to the ball park lately? Aramark may be handling the food service.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Last I checked, the TDCJ food budget was around $.54 per inmate meal. That may be why they haven't privatized. Not much profit margin at that rate.

Anonymous said...

No wonder the food (mostly casseroles) is so awful my son rarely eats it.

Anonymous said...

Here in Missouri, it is a fairly frequent practice to serve moldy and/or actually rotten food. About 3 weeks ago in one of the Level 5 prisons, they were served hot dogs that were, quite literally, spoiled and the guys refused to eat them. When it was pointed out to the CO in charge, his comment was, "We know, but we have to get rid of them." It is not at all unusual for the bread to be moldy. It being white bread, I always wonder how old it must be to actually be moldy. As for serving size, my kindergartner eats larger servings that they give these men.

Phillip Baker said...

I have known about Aramark's practices for a long time. They are notorious for their bad practices. The portions of poor quality food is scandalous, but they let prison systems "save" money. As a result inmate families have to send more money to their loved ones, so they can buy stuff from commissary, yet another highly marked up, low quality money maker here in Texas. TDCJ's food portions have been significantly reduced, so Texas prisoners must do the same and buy from commissary- IF they can get the money. Texans are famously mean-spirited about prison conditions, but consider this: if you need money for food, there are ways to earn it, steal it, scam it. This partly accounts for some of the bad things that happen behind TDCJ walls. And those things wind up costing lots of money. Money being the sole motivator of any concern for inmates, maybe that'll catch their attention.

Phillip Baker said...

On different but related issue- inmate phone services need some serious investigation. I had a 19 min call awhile back. The call was billed at $4.94, with an added "processing fee" of $2.5 and 31 cents tax. But Securus, which is the carrier, charges another $5 to process the bill payment! Per their customer service, whenever one adds or takes out any money from that inmate account, there is that $5 fee. Paying the bill is "taking money out". So, total cost for that call? $4.94 plus $7.50 in fees, plus tax- $12.74. No more calls from TDCJ.

I hear the FCC is considering new prison phone carrier rules.

Anonymous said...

No data on this company but Dallas serves white bread and Bologna sausage for all three meals to folk waiting to post bail.

Emily said...

Here at Texas Jail Project we receive more complaints from Montgomery County than any other about the food being inedible and more like cat food than real meat. We did an ORR to get the menu that's supposedly approved by TCJS - which of course was a lovely Aramark document with descriptions that sounded fine. But showed that to inmates & they state both the volume & quality of food is completely erroneous compared to what they are actually served. And things like thorny burrs have been found in the food. So many inmates rely on family members sending them commissary money to survive, and many report medical conditions being highly exacerbated by poor nutrition.