GREAT LAKES BEACON

Prison Food Contractor Gets $2.7M Boost Despite Maggots

Despite ongoing problems such as maggot-ridden food and inadequate staffing, Trinity Services Group, a private vendor providing food services for the state’s prisons, will see a $2.7 million increase for its operations in the upcoming fiscal year beginning on October 1.

Per the contract the state agreed to in 2015, Trinity gets a 1 percent annual increase for its operations or the change in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is greater, regardless of work performance. The CPI used had been holding steady, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections noted, but the latest CPI published was reduced and thus saved the department money.

“On top of that, we have continued to reduce our population, so there are fewer prisoners needing to eat. With fewer prisoners and a lower-than-expected CPI increase, the amount of the increase (to Trinity) this year was less than was originally thought,” MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz said.

Initially, Governor Rick Snyder had recommended a $3 million increase for the contract, though the final version of the budget passed Tuesday by the state House dropped that amount $300,000.

And a spokesperson for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which oversees state contracts, confirmed CPI increases are common practice in state contracts.

“They are built in to reflect the increase in market prices over time and also allow the state to better predict the cost of a contract during its lifetime,” Caleb Buhs, with the DTMB, said. “There are various nuances throughout the many state contracts including the percentage increase, ranging from 1 to 5 percent. Some agreements also contain provisions where there are no CPI increases for a set amount of years before they begin to kick in.”

In the grand scheme of the roughly $2 billion the state will spend on Corrections, a $2.7 million is minimal. But Trinity has seen its share of problems since entering into a contract with the state, including a $2 million fine in January this year over inadequate staffing.

Worse yet, it was reported in May that prisoners were picking through “maggot infested potatoes” – an issue Trinity’s predecessor, Aramark, is familiar with. In fact, repeated issues with maggots in food and improper relations with inmates became a tipping point for the state to ultimately terminate its contract with Aramark in July 2015, though at the time, top officials in the Snyder administration said it was a disagreement between the state and Aramark about contract changes Aramark wanted on billing and menu offerings that ended the relationship.

Trinity’s contract is good through July 31, 2018 and was purchased at roughly $158 million. Gautz said MDOC Director Heidi Washington overall had “good lines of communication” with the Trinity and “is able to address issues as they arise.”

“They have been very responsive. That said, she has repeatedly made clear that they need to do a better job filling the open positions they have in our facilities across the state,” Gautz said. “Vacant positions and high turnover of staff have led to many of the problems we have seen. These are also areas where they are routinely fined.”

But Nick Ciaramitaro with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 was not as impressed.

“While there has been significantly less press attention, there continue to be problems,” Ciaramitaro said, pointing to the staffing fine assessed in January and reports that an inmate disturbance at Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula cost the state nearly $900,000.

And in September 2016, the Detroit Free Press reported that a Michigan prison food worker had been fired after he was found with suspected drugs.

As to Gautz’s comments on behalf of the Corrections director regarding Trinity’s inability to provide adequate staffing, Ciaramitaro said, “I think they are telling. It is not a surprise an employer (Trinity) with an underpaid, understaffed, undertrained workforce has a hard time recruiting and retaining sufficient staff.”

As to payment of fines, Gautz said the department deducts from Trinity’s monthly payment the amount they were assessed in the previous month. For example, if the company billed the state for $4.2 million one month but received fines totaling $200,000, the company would receive a payment from the state for $4 million rather than the full amount.

MDOC reserves the right to terminate its contract with Trinity under several scenarios, including breach of contract, if the state determines such to be in its best interest, lack of funding, criminal conviction, or otherwise.

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson