Could Privatizing Prison Food Services Cause Backlash Behind Bar - WLNS TV 6 Lansing - Jackson | Your Local News Leader

Could Privatizing Prison Food Services Cause Backlash Behind Bars?

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – The group that represents Michigan's corrections officers says it worries that privatizing food services in Michigan prisons could pose huge safety risks.

"You don't mess with a prisoner's food," says Mel Grieshaber, executive director for the Michigan Corrections Organization. "It creates a terrible situation whenever anything is done with the food items of a prisoner, and if there's trouble because of that food, the preparation or how it's handled, it's the correctional officers that have to go in there and handle the situation."

As of October 1, the state will hand over prison food preparations to Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services. The company won a $145 million, 30-year contract with the state that officials say is expected to save $16 million annually. "It was about benchmarking our costs to see if there's an outside contractor that could enhance our services with a decreased cost," says Russ Marlan of the Michigan Department of Corrections. "So I think we're confident we're moving into a next phase where we'll see the same services or a higher level of services at significant decreased costs, which is better for Michigan taxpayers."

Gov. Rick Snyder also supports the change, also citing costs as a motive. "I don't talk about privatization, I talk about competitive bidding," says Snyder. "It came out that a private provider is more effective than the state continuing to do that work."

However, one Republican lawmaker isn't siding with the governor, saying the bidding process was not fair, and that the privatization will hurt Michigan businesses. "I think we need to have more eyes on the bid process; we need to do some more comparing," says Sen. Tom Casperson, R- Escanaba. "The other part of the job is not just the people in the facilities. We've got vendors outside of the corrections facilities that are Michigan-based businesses that could lose their business through this process simply because the private company's going to do business with other people outside of the state [for a lower cost]."

The Michigan Department of Corrections says the contract was structured to have an emphasis on Michigan products, but who Aramark chooses to buy from is a decision the company must make on its own.

Emerald Morrow is a reporter with WLNS-TV. Like her on Facebook, Follow her on Twitter or email her at emorrow@wlns.com.

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