Ex-corrections chief blasted prison food service

02/22/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Last week, WMNF reported on a rally held in Miami by labor and community leaders calling for an investigation of Aramark’s food service contract with Florida’s Department of Corrections.

The activists referenced an audit by a Florida Inspector General which found that Aramark was collecting “windfall profits” from its contract with the state, and that by doing the work for itself, the state could save approximately $7-million a year.

But instead of firing the company, the state gave Aramark a new five-year contract.

When contacted last week by WMNF to comment on the rally, Corrections spokesperson Gretl Plessinger dismissed the internal audit.

Christine Grow, a spokeswoman for Aramark, did not want to be recorded at the time, but said that the rally last week was a stunt designed simply to increase the membership of the SEIU and Unite Here, the two unions who participated at the event.

Jim Baker is a spokesman for Unite Here, which represents workers in hotels, casinos and restaurants. He says the report speaks for itself.

Jim McDonough stepped down as Department of Corrections secretary earlier this month. Before he stepped down, McDonough wrote a lengthy letter to House Speaker Marco Rubio strongly criticizing Aramark for its offer to "significantly cut caloric intake to Florida inmates."

According to McDonough, Aramark had proposed cutting inmates diet by 900 calories a day, from 3,000 to 2,100, with "no detriment to inmates nutrition and health."

McDonough wrote "this line of bologna I find both unpalatable and not credible.”

In the letter obtained by WMNF dated Feb. 1, Secretary McDonough, who has since been replaced by Walter McNeil, wrote that “When Aramark tried to sell their ‘cut food-save money’ proposal tome a few months ago, I reminded them of the contract they had only recently signed. I was convinced, then, and remain convinced, that there is neither merit nor decency in their proposal.”

Aramark signed a new contract with the state last August and was awarded 75 percent of inmate food services. A second vendor, Trinity Food Services, was hired to provide the other 25 percent.

DOC spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger told WMNF today that McNeil plans to meet with Aramark next week about possible renegotiations. She says the department has already cut $70-million from its budget. But she says McNeil will not compromise nutrition of inmates or the public safety of correctional officers by decreasing their caloric intake that significantly.

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