Aramark gets state prison food contract

After opting to end its relationship with a troubled state-based food provider, the Tennessee Department of Correction chose a company with its own history of issues as its replacement, reports The Tennessean.

The department plans to award its food services contract to Aramark, a massive Philadelphia-based company that provides food for many large venues across the country, including Nissan Stadium.

“After the State and Aramark negotiate and finalize a contract, the expected start date for food delivery will be October 1, 2016,” the department said in a news release issued late Wednesday.

The move marks the end of the department’s food relationship with the Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction, also known as TRICOR. TRICOR provided the department food through its cook chill program for years, until an audit from the state Comptroller of the Treasury in late 2015 noted a slew of financial issues with the program. The issues included no formal contract between the department and TRICOR, a problem that forced the rehabilitation program to funnel $4 million toward the food program that it had expected from the department.

“While the food service contract with TRICOR will come to an end, the partnership with this agency will continue. TRICOR is and will continue to be a valued partner in providing programming and job skills for the offender population,” the department statement said.

Lawmakers blasted the oversight of TRICOR, with state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, calling for a change in leadership. After the release of the report, the department and TRICOR announced they would eventually end their relationship. TRICOR CEO Patricia Weiland also retired weeks after Yager said he’d “lost confidence” in TRICOR leadership and others said a change in direction was needed.

“We are looking forward to partnering with the DOC to serve quality, nourishing meals throughout the state’s facilities,” Aramark Vice President for Corporate Communications Karen Cutler said in an emailed statement.

The new direction for the department’s food heads to a company that has its own problems when it comes to serving prisoners. In 2015, the state of Michigan and Aramark agreed to end their $145 million, three-year contract 18 months early after a litany of problems with the company, according to the Detroit Free Press.

According to the Free Press, those problems included: Meal shortages; Maggots in the food; Inmates served cake that had been chewed on by rodents; Aramark workers reportedly smuggling drugs into prisons and engaging in sex acts with prisoners; Banning 176 Aramark employees from returning to work, including one who reportedly tried to pay one inmate to attack a different inmate.

The state of Michigan fined Aramark $98,000 in March 2014 for some of these problems, then waived the fine, then eventually fined the company $200,000 in August 2014 when the problems remained, according to the Free Press.

“The Aramark contract has been a nightmare from day one,” Michigan state Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, told the newspaper at the time. “This completely irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars has put hundreds of state kitchen employees out of work, and … jeopardized the health and safety of inmates and prison employees alike.”