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Ohio prisons privatize meal service to save money

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio is turning over the feeding of its approximately 50,000 prison inmates to a private company in an attempt to save $14 million annually in the face of looming budget deficits, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced Friday.

Philadelphia-based Aramark won the two-year contract with a bid to spend about $3.61 per day per inmate, the state said.

The $110 million contract starts Sept. 8 and runs through June 30, 2015, with an option to extend that for two additional two-year budget cycles.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is facing a $60 million shortfall because of increases in workers comp rates, health insurance premiums, medical and drug expenses, an expected increase in inmate population and other issues, spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said Friday.

More than 230 of the agency's 433 food service workers already have moved to other positions within the system, and the system is trying to find places for as many of the remaining workers as possible, Smith said.

Prisons director Gary Mohr "remains committed to meeting our budget without closing any housing units or laying off security staff," Smith said in a statement.

The union representing prison guards criticized the announcement, saying it had offered a competitive proposal to keep the work in-house while saving money.

The move means untrained food service workers replacing union employees who were trained to deal with prison security issues in addition to their kitchen duties, said Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

"It leads to the possibility of very violent, dangerous situations," Mabe said.

Indiana, Kansas and Kentucky are among states that have already privatized their prison food service operations.

A message was left with Aramark. It won the contract over Oldsmar, Fla.-based Trinity Services Group, which submitted a $3.74 per inmate per day bid.

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