- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - An overseer hired by the state after a series of problems said Wednesday that Michigan’s prison food service contractor will boost worker pay, staffing levels and training.

Ed Buss told reporters in Lansing that better staffing alleviates other problems, and overall performance of Aramark Correctional Services “needs to be much better.” Buss is a former chief of prisons in Florida and Indiana hired Gov. Rick Snyder to oversee Michigan’s contract with the company.

Aramark’s work and its three-year, $145 million contract with Michigan have been under scrutiny. The state fined the Philadelphia-based company $200,000 last month for unapproved menu substitutions, inadequate staffing and employee misconduct.

A prison food-service worker in the Upper Peninsula also has been suspected of approaching an inmate about arranging to have another inmate killed.

“Staff is what alleviates all the other problems,” Buss said. “If you’re fully staffed the inmates can’t steal out of the kitchen. They can’t steal the food because they’re being supervised.”

Buss said that Aramark employees got pay raises averaging $2 per hour last month. He said the company will increase staff by 20 percent and will increase workers’ training.

“The wage rate increase applies to new hires where starting wage is being increased,” Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said in an email to The Associated Press. She said the company’s salaries are comparable to those at 10 local jails it serves in Michigan.

A liberal advocacy group said the changes are too little and said it’s time for the governor to get rid of Aramark.

“He should end the Aramark contract immediately,” Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement.

Scott said “it’s obvious that we cannot believe anything that comes from the Snyder administration regarding the Aramark contract. Gov. Snyder needs to do what he should have done a long time ago and come clean about why he continues to allow an out-of-state corporation to endanger Michigan communities.”

Cutler said Aramark officials “leave the politics to the politicians and special interest groups.”

“We are focused on moving forward with our partnership with (Michigan’s prison system) and delivering the millions in taxpayers’ savings we promised,” the spokeswoman said.

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