Sunday, March 30, 2008

Vendor, lawmakers suggest cutting $11 million from prison food deals


Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

Saturday, March 29, 2008

TALLAHASSEE — Mushy bland broccoli stems accompanied by a greasy mystery meat endowed with undercooked rice is as good as it gets for inmates behind bars.

But, according to the vendor who provides the food and some lawmakers, that's still too good.

They want to cut as much as $11 million from prison food contracts as part of an effort to pare about $3 billion from next year's state budget.

Prison officials fear that cutting the food budget will lower the quality of meals that are already bland and cause unrest among inmates.

Anger about meals is the No. 1 reason for inmate uprisings, according to corrections officials, and menu changes imperil safety for prison guards, inmates and the public in general.

"We think any reduction to (the current menu) that is not a change for health reasons poses a risk to public safety," said Department of Corrections Chief of Staff Richard Prudhom. "It may sound overly dramatic, but we strongly believe that."

The state pays nearly $79 million per year to two food service vendors - Philadelphia-based Aramark and Oldsmar-based Trinity Services Group Inc. - for the bulk of the food that is purchased for Florida's more than 92,000 inmates.

The state now pays $2.67 for three meals a day for each inmate. Lawmakers in the House want to reduce that cost to $2.30 a day.

Aramark representatives have convinced some lawmakers that the state can save millions by reducing calories fed to inmates. The company wants to go back to a menu it once served that prison officials say was unacceptable.

While the current menu is better then the old one, some inmates still complain about the food.

"I don't eat it. I just come here to give it away," Calvin Mayes, an inmate at Jefferson Correctional Institution in Monticello, said after a lunch of Spanish rice and broccoli. Instead, he spends about $150 a month at the prison canteen to buy food.

"The quality of the food is substandard," said a relative of an inmate at Marion Correctional Institution in Lowell, who asked not to be named because she feared retaliation against the prisoner. "The preparation is haphazard. They're supposed to wear hairnets and gloves. You find hair in your food and you find a Band-Aid in your food. Things are so overcooked it's mush, or it's not cooked at all."

Sen. Tony Hill recently asked the legislature's Joint Auditing Committee to conduct an investigation into the Aramark contract, and Aramark spokeswoman Sarah Jarvis confirmed that the state auditor general is also looking into it.

"When you've got people boycotting the food altogether, that's a problem," said Hill, D-Jacksonville.

Some inmates, like Donald Jones, say the food is the best it has ever been.

But food quality is less important to some lawmakers than saving money for taxpayers. The Senate has proposed slicing $6 million from the current prison food budget, while the House wants to cut $11 million.

"We're talking about substantial savings," Jarvis said. "They way the savings come about is by making better use of the ingredients served. For instance, replace French toast with pancakes."

Jarvis said that Aramark's spending for food has tripled since the initial contract was established in 2001.

Aramark wants to do more than change the menu. The company also is proposing cutting back on the number of workers it provides prisons, shifting the responsibility to corrections officials.

Guards would have to fill in, posing a problem for an already understaffed corrections system that could lose 1,800 guards under the Senate proposal, according to corrections officials.

Since signing a contract with the state seven years ago, Aramark has received mixed reviews. There have been questions about food quality, quantity and potential health violations. At times, the company has been fined by the state for failure to meet the specifications of its contract.

Critics suggest the proposed new contract is really an attempt by Aramark to make more money by paying less for food. The company is paid not by the number of meals consumed but by the number of inmates. If fewer inmates eat the food, Aramark can save money by providing less food.

In February, Aramark-served institutions had an 85 percent participation rate of inmates eating the company's meals. Trinity, which serves food to about one quarter of the state's inmates, had a 97 percent participation rate.

A state audit of the Aramark contract last year found that the participation rates equated to a "windfall for the vendor" and that Aramark substituted low-cost foods, such as turkey instead of beef, without passing the savings on to the state.

Aramark representatives and corrections officials both say those problems have been resolved.

Trinity this month canceled its contract with the state, giving it until August to renegotiate because, the company claims, it is losing money on the deal.

Corrections officials said they will meet with Trinity and Aramark next week to discuss their contracts.


Anonymous said...

that looks incredibly gross.. i wouldnt feed that to my dogs..

Anonymous said...

maybe the prison officals should eat the horible food thats served in prison how would they like that

Anonymous said...

When you do crimes you do the time. Look at how many are repeat offenders in the prisons. I find that if the food was so bad I wouldn't go back. We as taxpayers are paying the bill for them to eat. The food a lot of times is not as bad as we might think. But it is the only thing that is 3 times a day & what else can they complain about that is going to be served the same time everyday. Of course when you have the same menu for 1 year or longer it does get old.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a joke. that is a massive meal in comparison to what i have and the fact there is a ;arge variety there makes me laugh. what are they moaning about. besides they aint payin for jack shit.

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with Anonymous NOV.16 on what he/she said... I'm in the military and we definitely don't have it that good, and by that I mean our some of our food are way too greesy or way too dry and neither of them are in any way good or great, but decent/editable at best. I was told that we practically get past down food from prisons and based on this picture I would have to agree; but of course that explains why I rarely eat food prepared from our messhall(cafeteria) except on occasions (military birthdays, they may serve as a steak or some crablegs ),but i still get money (300 dollars)taken out of my pay every month regardless if i choose to eat or not eat at our messhall.

Anonymous said...

How would you like to eat Turky Buzzerd innards for your meat. Many people get sick and what about those people that are doing time and are innocent should they be subject to food poisening as well? They are human and loved by
God and don't think that it is free as it is not.

Anonymous said...

I've been listening to convicts bitch and complain about food for 10 years and quite honestly, I don't care what they think about the food. If you want Momma's cooking, keep your dumb ass out of the joint. If you wind up behind bars, you get exactly what you deserve...and nothing else.