In some cultures, eating maggots is everyday fare. Cooking them rather than eating them raw kills the bacteria on the surface and makes them tastier, it’s been said. And deep fried, maybe like they do Buckeyes at the Ohio State Fair, just make them crunchy and nutty flavored, a bit like pork rinds , reviews of the tiny creatures—fly larva, really—note. And because maggots are fatty, bizarre food experts say they represent a good source of calories, in case you’re forced into survival mode.
But in the western world, and in heartland Ohio specifically, interaction between people and maggots usually occurs near garbage cans, dead animals, rotten food and other breeding grounds for maggots. So when reports of maggots in prison food, on kitchen equipment and in serving lines made headlines, the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the union representing the majority of Department Rehabilitation and Correction employees, said the maggots “are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of contract infractions being committed by Aramark.”
Christopher Mabe, OCSEA President, offered testimony at a Statehouse hearing that shined a light on unsafe working conditions that have developed since food-service contractor giant “Aramark” started delivering prison food. OCSEA’s leader also said that because of the Philadelphia-based company’s contract infractions so far, DR&C has to add resources to supplement the contract.
Testifying before the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee in downtown Columbus, Mabe said nearly 100 Aramark employees have been banned from ever entering a DR&C prison, more than 100 instances of food shortages and issues ranging from increased contraband, to low staffing levels, to inappropriate relationships, a combination of factors that lead to the inescapable conclusion that Aramark never had control of the contract.
Reported and verified food shortages have pushed past 100, many that led to security problems, inmate violence and programming delays. Cost shifting is also taking place, Mabe said, pointing to staff reallocations, additional inspections and increased security, among others. This has the effect, he said, of propping up the contractor. “So instead of Aramark servicing our institutions, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that DR&C is now servicing Aramark,” he said in prepared remarks.
Unscripted, another incident was reported today of maggots in a serving line at Noble Correctional Institution. “What has become clear is that this contract comes at either too high a risk or too high a price tag—or both.” OCSEA has asked DR&C to consider ending the contract and bringing prison food service back under state control.
Ohio DR&C issued a second fine of $130,200 fine against Aramark for continued staffing shortages, unacceptable food substitutions and shortages and sanitation issues. Maggots were observed in food service operations at five prisons this month and last, according to Ohio’s July 23 letter to the company.
“There were and there are remaining concerns,” DR&C director Gary Mohr told members of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.
In his first state budget, Gov. John Kasich wanted to sell five prisons, breaking from previous governors to advocate privatizing public services or selling state assets like prisons or even the Ohio Turnpike. At the time, Gov. Kasich, running for reelection this year, promised not to raise taxes to cover billions in budget shortfalls. His plan included significant reductions for most agencies, but increased general revenue fund spending in each year. There will be efforts apart from the budget to have companies take over state assets or services, said Gov. Kasich, who included the lottery and the 241-mile Ohio Turnpike.
Kasich appointed Gary Mohr, a 40-year corrections professional at the time with a national reputation for innovative and efficient prison management. In 2005, Mohr founded Mohr Correctional Insight, where he advised the Corrections Corporation of America, founded in 1983 to create public-private partnerships in corrections, replacing the government-only failures of the past with smarter, more effective solutions for the future. CCA operates 60 facilities in 21 states and the District of Columbia, with 14,000 employees.
OCSEA represents 30,000 state employees, including 8,000 members in DR&C.