For Immediate Release
July 5, 2002
For More Information
Contact: Public Affairs Office
St. Petersburg Times
Phil Gailey, Editorial Page
490 First Ave. S,
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Privatization of food services has saved the hard-working taxpayers of our state $7.9 million during the first year of operation. In addition, this initiative has allowed over 470 correctional officers working in prison kitchens to be reassigned to security positions within the prison compound. The privatization of food services has allowed the Department of Corrections to maximize its limited resources by reducing costs and redirecting resources to security operations. The problems you allude to in your July 1 editorial, "Prisons need better food service" have been isolated incidents and not systemic across the state. The Department of Corrections is committed to insuring that our inmates live in a safe and humane environment and that they are provided proper nourishment. To that end, all meals are planned by registered dieticians and include proper serving sizes.
Whenever change occurs, there is an accompanying period of adjustment. At the time the Department of Corrections contracted with Aramark to provide food services in Florida's prisons, Aramark had 90 days to comply. The company set up operations, hired staff, and opened 126 kitchens within this time frame - an extraordinary effort.
We do not deny experiencing the kinds of difficulties you reported. In fact, the department faced many of the same challenges when operating food service: challenges like food availability and excess food production for low inmate turnout. As we have done in the past, we are meeting these challenges head on. Aramark, too, is concerned and wants these issues resolved. The current contract allows us to assess fines and bill them for services not performed, which we have done and will continue to do.
Have there been problems serving 204,000 meals a day--nearly 75 million meals a year? Sure. Do we expect no problems whatsoever with personnel or the ordering of food? Surely not. But now that we have reached the end of the first year of implementation, Aramark has gained knowledge and experience and they are committed to our Florida system. They will continue to improve and we will continue to expect full contractual compliance and fine them for any failures.
What is critical now is to stop reckless rhetoric, including completely unfounded speculation about possible "food riots." I sincerely hope your editorial did not unwittingly exacerbate inmate anxiety or jeopardize safety.
Instead, I am confident that both inmates and staff are well aware that all concerns are being addressed professionally and that we are committed to proper food service for all inmates.