Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

May 1, 2013

In reversal, state privatizing prison food service

LANSING (AP) — State officials reversed themselves Tuesday in deciding to hire a private company to prepare food for Michigan’s 44,000 prisoners, saying they originally misjudged a plan that would actually save the state about $16 million.

The Michigan Department of Corrections sent a notification to state employees of the decision, which puts the jobs of 373 workers at risk.

The agency initially said the plan would not save enough money. But on Tuesday, agency officials said mistakes were made in evaluating bidders’ proposals, including comparisons between the private sector and state costs that were not “apples to apples.”

As a result, the state could save 20 percent, or about $16 million, by hiring Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp. The state currently spends about $73 million a year for prison food services.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration decided against privatizing some prison services on March 1, because three contracts out for bid did not achieve the minimum 5 percent savings as required by state rules, or a 10 percent threshold set by corrections officials. But after Republican lawmakers complained, officials did a review and found mistakes involving the review of the food contract.

Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, said his understanding is that that 85 percent to 90 percent of the state’s prison food service employees will be offered jobs by Aramark. A corrections spokesman could not immediately verify that figure. Messages seeking comment were left with Aramark.

“That’ll save $16 million right off the bottom line of general fund support. And general fund are the discretionary dollars that we have as appropriators to plow into other areas of the state’s needs and wants, whether it be roads or schools or otherwise,” said Proos, who chairs the Senate subcommittee responsible for the corrections budget.

One factor in the reversal was that the state took into consideration the actual number of meals served instead of assuming all prisoners eat three meals a day.

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