Ohio prisons agency, private vendor, developing new menu with inmate and staff input

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio's prisons agency is working with the private vendor hired to feed inmates to develop a new menu for the fall and winter, the state said Tuesday as it also announced a tougher evaluation standard.

Inmates and staff were surveyed about current foods they like and dislike, along with items they want eliminated or added, according to a list of responses by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to recommendations by a legislative oversight committee.

The agency also said it has raised the bar for determining when Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services must take action based on evaluations. Previously, action plans were required if evaluation scores fell below 80 percent. The agency has raised that to 84 percent, according to the recommendations provided by agency director Gary Mohr.

Aramark has also agreed to an eight-hour food service training program for company supervisors, and will also send supervisors to a six-day prisons training academy.

The state is deducting the cost of that training from a $130,200 fine it levied on the company in July, in "the spirit of continuing forward progress and partnership" to ensure Aramark complies with its contract.

The state has levied a total of $272,000 fines on Aramark for contract violations, including running out of main courses, understaffing, inappropriate relationships between inmates and Aramark employees and a few cases of maggots near food preparation areas.

Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said the company supported the state's responses. The additional training "is extremely beneficial, and aligns well with our current training program," Cutler said.

The company has defended its handling of its $110 million contract to feed 50,000 Ohio inmates daily. The state has acknowledged that similar problems happened when state workers had the contract, although it can't measure the extent.

Mohr said the contract saved Ohio $13 million last year and is on track to save $16 million this year. He said Ohio would have closed its prisons in Hocking County without the money saved by the contract.

In response to several questions about menu size and food quality, the state said a previous class-action lawsuit over inmate medical conditions requires it "to provide a heart healthy menu" including foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

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