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Are Corporate Campaign Donations the Real Reason Behind Sickening Prison Fare?

A billion dollar company that recently went public may be responsible for making prisoners sick.  Aramark Holdings Corporation, whose investors include Goldman Sachs, provide over 1 million prison meals daily, many for under $1 a plate.

New Jersey corrections officer Crystal Jordan said that while Aramark may work on a lean food budget, the food provided is often sub par, or even dangerous. The 23-year corrections veteran pointed out that while prison fare was never fine dining, once Aramark came in, the food quality tanked.

“The bread was stale. I saw food in the kitchen with mold on it. The refrigerator broke down and the food was left outside in the cold or trucked in from another facility,” she said. “Those who ate the food began to get sick.”

According to Jordan, food-related illness in the prison is now common place. “Diarrhea and vomiting is common among the prisoners,” Jordan pointed out, “A few weeks ago one of the officers got a bowl of the prisoners’ chili. We all told him not to eat it. He ended up with diarrhea in the bathroom.”

Al Gordon, who once served time in a New Jersey jail, recounted that one time all the inmates got sick for three days after being fed bad meat. “Whenever we tried to eat anything for those three days we threw it back up. We were all sweating and felt dizzy.”

During his time working in the prison kitchen, where he was assigned, he said that the conditions were unsanitary and prisoners were not given enough to eat. “The utensils for cooking were dirty. Many of the prisoners preparing the food would use the bathroom and then not wash their hands or wear gloves. Hair fell into the food. The bread was stale and hard,” he observed. “And the portions we were required to serve were real small. You could eat six portions like the ones we served … and still be hungry.”

Despite complaints of hunger, illness, and unsanitary kitchens lodged by both inmates and prison staff, Aramark’s prison food business is thriving. The company recently won a $145 million contract to serve 45,000 prisoners in Michigan and is currently feeding inmates from coast to coast.

The secret to their success, though may not be their captive audience or America’s unwillingness to side with the needs of the incarcerated, but instead their winning combination of profiteering and corporate lobbying.

Aramark, “lavishes campaign donations on pliable politicians, who in turn hand out state and federal contracts to political contributors, as well as write laws and regulations to benefit their corporate sponsors at the expense of the poor,” Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges remarked after researching the company prison policies. “Aramark fires unionized workers inside prisons and jails and replaces them with underpaid, nonunionized employees. And it makes sure the food is low enough in both quality and portion to produce huge profits.”

As a result, while food-borne illness and hunger in Aramark-served prisons may be on the rise, according to Hedges politicians continue to look the other way, threatening the health and well-being of 1 million inmates forced to eat sub par and sometimes rancid food while Aramark rakes in record profits.

Photo Credit: Larry 5154

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.