Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Shuts Press and Public Out of Aramark Prison Food Controversy


In both Michigan and Ohio, Aramark stands accused of unsanitary food service conditions and meal shortages. Ohio announced it is developing plans to invite health inspectors into its prison kitchens to evaluate “cleanliness and food safety, just like restaurants” — a much-needed buffer of oversight for the prison food supply in that state.

But Michigan is moving in the totally opposite direction. The Detroit Free Press reports that Governor Snyder is taking oversight of Aramark’s contract away from the Department of Corrections and bringing it into his office, which is exempt from Michigan’s public disclosure laws. The unions are right to fear that this move will inevitably “shield problems with the contract from public scrutiny.”

This will be a serious blow to transparency in Michigan prisons, and could help those responsible skirt accountability while ultimately making things much worse for those on the inside (emphasis mine):

On July 13, the Free Press published a series of articles documenting widespread problems with food shortages, smuggling of contraband, food-related prisoner unrest, and Aramark employees getting too friendly with inmates. The reports were based on thousands of pages the newspaper received from the Corrections Department, through FOIA.

■ Complete coverage: Freep.com/aramark

Michael Migrin, legislative liaison for the Michigan State Employees Association, an AFSCME union which represented the 370 state food workers displaced by the three-year contract, said he and other members suspect monitoring of the contract is being shifted to the governor’s office to shield e-mails and other related records from mandatory disclosure.

The public ought to ask Gov. Snyder how less transparency (in a situation where little exists already) could possibly be in prisoners’ best interest.

For the moment, no one seems willing or able to discuss how the public would continue to obtain records under the move:

Asked how the Free Press or members of the public would be able to obtain complete records related to monitoring of the contract in the future, Marlan said a spokeswoman for Snyder would have to answer that question.

Sara Wurfel, a Snyder spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to an e-mail and phone message.

Meanwhile, Aramark and the DOC are throwing their arms around each other to share responsibility for this mess, making it unlikely either side will be seriously punished.

This is the real travesty. Once again, a prison contractor will get away with a slap on the wrist even though its clear that until officials were forced to confront news reports of maggots in the food supply, they couldn’t have given two shits about what prisoners ate:

“As we investigated deeper into the sanitary problems we determined that the issues were more systemic or system-wide in nature,” Marlan said. “Our staff still operate the prison warehouses where food is shipped and then transported by MDOC staff to kitchens in our correctional facilities. The sanitary issues we experienced were, for the most part, due to rotting food.”

If you have to launch a ‘deep investigation’ into sanitary problems at your food warehouses, something tells me you’re not doing the most basic, routine inspections to begin with.

Brian Sonenstein
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein is a Berkeley-based writer, activist and former Campaign Director and Associate Publisher for Firedoglake.com. Learn more at http://briansonenstein.com
Brian Sonenstein
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