New contract will feed Ohio prisoners for $3.95 a day

Aramark, a multibillion dollar food service corporation, will continue to feed Ohio’s 50,000 prison inmates under a new $130 million state contract.

Aramark, which has held the contract since 2013, will be paid $3.95 a day per prisoner in the first year, which works out to be $1.31 per meal. Under the four-year contract, which starts July 1, the per prisoner per day fee increases to $4.04, $4.13 and $4.22.

The menu provides dishes that are popular among incarcerated adults and approved by a state dietician, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

The current master menu lists a rotation of offerings that include creamy corn grits and white bread for breakfast; turkey sausage pizza and green beans for lunch; and turkey bologna, rice and carrots for dinner.

The new contract specifies that Aramark must serve real pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. This will replace the pumpkin cake served at previous Thanksgiving meals that was unpopular, DRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.

Aramark, which employs more than 200,000 workers, also agreed to create a job training program for inmates and assist them with job placement once they’re released.

The new contract is expected to save Ohio taxpayers $12 million a year, according to DRC.

Under the Kasich administration, DRC sold off its farming operations that produced some of the food consumed inside of state prisons. Ohio prisons had operated farms and a dairy, where inmates learned job skills, for 148 years until 2016.

Kasich also privatized the prison food operations. Aramark was paid $3.60 per prisoner per day in fiscal year 2014 when Ohio first went to the outside contractor. The per diem fee slowly increased each year to $4.36 in fiscal year 2021.

Ohio Civil Service Employees Association President Chris Mabe said the union is disappointed management didn’t consider other factors such as Aramark’s high staff turnover and complaints about food quality that can contribute to security issues inside prisons.

“We question how the contractor could come in with a lower bid than in previous years without affecting staff turnover and food safety. Sometimes there are more important considerations than just the bottom line,” Mabe said.

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