Unit set up to monitor prison system contracts

LANSING (AP) — The Michigan Department of Corrections is setting up a 30-person unit to monitor the department’s private contracts for the supply of food, medical treatment and other services.

The department spent about $250 million last year on about 185 service contracts, including about 70 substance abuse contracts, more than a dozen sex offender related contracts and about a dozen prisoner re-entry contracts, MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said.

The Detroit Free Press reports that it’s the first department in the state to set up such a unit.

In addition to monitoring contracts, Gautz said the new unit will conduct required audits under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Food contractor Aramark Correctional Services was replaced last year after a billing dispute and a series of unflattering incidents involving prisoners and employees of the private company. Michigan and the company mutually agreed to end their three-year, $145 million contract early.

Department Director Heidi Washington said the department is working with the Civil Service Department on establishing the new unit and identifying positions for it, which she said would be filled by realigning existing
staff rather than hiring new employees.

“We need to better coordinate our monitoring efforts” across all contracts, with uniform standards and training for staff who do the monitoring, Washington has said. “We have some significant relationships with vendors.”

A December report from the state auditor general said the Corrections Department spent about $2.1 million to monitor the Aramark contract between December 2013 and August 2015.

Roland Zullo, an associate research scientist who studies privatization at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy, said the cost of monitoring a privatized state service can vary significantly, depending on the nature of the service.