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Oversight official: Ohio prison food problems are real

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Concerns about the job a private vendor is doing feeding inmates in Ohio prisons are real, the head of a state prisons oversight committee said Wednesday.

The quality of food has gone down since Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services began work last September and food service concerns are more significant than in the past ten years, Joanna Saul, chief of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, told legislative members of her committee

Attention to sanitation appears to be lacking, Aramark employees lack sufficient security training and Aramark's low wages lead to high turnover and a temptation to smuggle in contraband, Saul said.

"You make $10 an hour but you can make $300 selling cigarettes," Saul said. "What are you going to choose?"

Numerous reports have documented cases of Aramark running out of main and side dishes over the past several months. Reports also indicate several days when Aramark employees simply failed to show up, cases of unauthorized relationships between inmates and Aramark workers, and five reports since January of maggots in food or the preparation process.

Aramark has called the complaints part of an anti-privatization effort and says it's making steady progress managing operations.

Aramark's $110 million deal to feed some 50,000 Ohio prisoners began in September and runs through June 30, 2015.

The state fined the company $142,000 in April, saying it had failed to meet promised staffing levels, among other problems.

Ninety-six Aramark employees are banned from working in Ohio prisons, according to prison documents.

The prison employees union has filed a formal grievance over the Aramark contract. It said it offered a competitive proposal to keep food service in-house.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder's administration is approaching a decision on possibly reconsidering Aramark's 3-year, $145 million contract. Earlier this year, Michigan officials reported two incidents of maggots found in a prison's food service area in Jackson.

At issue is a bigger national debate over privatizing prison services from food preparation to the running of entire facilities to save money at a time of squeezed state budgets.

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