News Hits: Schauer raises questions on Michigan's prison population during gubernatorial debate

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Mark Schauer, Democratic nominee in Michigan's gubernatorial race
  • Mark Schauer, Democratic nominee in Michigan's gubernatorial race

OK, we admit that we weren’t exactly jazzed about the one-hour town hall forum between Michigan’s gubernatorial candidates, incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and his opponent, Democratic nominee Mark Schauer. The non-debate debate was billed as “significant,” as it was the only time this election season where both candidates would meet. In this instance, it wasn’t exactly the earth-shattering bout that managed to drive either candidate into oblivion.

Unfortunately, much like the short TV ad buys, the evening’s discourse was full of one-liners on everything from transportation to education. Still, observers feel obliged to rattle off the best and worst moments of the evening, and decide who won the fight.

We did perk up when Schauer made an interesting offhand remark about Michigan’s insanely costly prison population: Maybe we should look to lower the head-count.
Said Schauer: “We need to look at who we are mad at, versus who we are afraid of.”

A noble point-of-view, especially when you take into consideration a jaw-dropping report from Bridge magazine earlier this year. Since 1980, writer Ted Roelofs points out, “Michigan’s biggest growth industry has been its prison system.”

Consider these numbers: The state spends about $2 billion annually to fund its prisons, a larger share than any other state. We actually appropriate more for prisons than we do for education, Roelofs reports. When it comes to sick and elderly patients, the cost can run as high as $200,000 for mental and health care — for a single patient. The cost of operating Michigan’s prisons consumes a whopping 21 percent of the state’s annual budget.

Why, you might wonder, was that not a focal point of the debate?

And now, part of that cost goes toward paying Aramark Correctional Services to handle prison food services. Last year, the Snyder administration signed the three-year, $145 million contract to privatize that aspect of the prison budget. What Snyder failed to address during the debate was that Aramark’s service in Michigan has been nothing short of a complete disaster. Maggots have been discovered on the food line, Aramark staffers have been caught fooling around with inmates, one employee has been accused in an alleged murder-for-hire plot. Yet this is what Snyder had to say when Aramark came up last night:

“I prefer to work with people,” rather than throw them out. His administration lowered the corrections budget by $100 million, the governor says, and Aramark has been successful in other states.

Pump the brakes. Maybe Snyder hasn’t paid attention to reports in other states, but don’t take our word for it. Here’s a dispatch from an Aramark-related incident covered in Ohio by the Columbus Dispatch:

“[S]even institutions received contract compliance scores of less than the acceptable 80 percent standard during reviews in recent months, indicating problems remain, according to state records. The lowest-rated prison — with a 64 percent score — was Mansfield Correctional Institution, where a state contract monitor complained of a “very dirty” serving area, kitchen and ovens, and a shortage of Aramark employees.”

There’s more.

“Mice made a couple of appearances,” the report says. “Their feces were found on food racks at Madison Correctional Institution, and a mouse scampered across the floor in front of an inspector in a storage area at Pickaway Correctional Institution. There was one repeat report of maggots, which have been discovered in meal and kitchen areas at a few institutions, notably the Marysville prison.”

Yikes. Adding insult to injury, an Aramark catering truck was spotted outside the debate on Wayne State University’s campus. Whether the company provided food for the event was unclear at press time. However, the presence of the truck was reportedly a huge bummer for plenty of attendees.


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