COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The private food vendor that holds the contract for feeding Ohio's 50,000 prisoners has repeatedly failed to meet the staffing levels it promised, the state announced Friday as it hit the company with $142,100 in fines.
Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services did not meet staffing requirements several times this year at three prisons, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said in the letter obtained by The Associated Press.
Aramark also failed to meet the staffing requirement of a minimum of 414 positions called for in the contract, and failed to have a certified food service manager for several months at the state's Southeastern Correctional Complex Hocking Unit in Nelsonville.
Aramark's actions required prison staff to perform food service tasks at several meals, Stephanie Warner, associate legal counsel with the Department of Administrative Services department, said in the letter.
In addition, an internal audit at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville in central Ohio found incomplete documentation showing inmates received their prescribed diets.
The prisons agency "has had repeated discussions with you and your staff regarding on-going issues" with the contract, the letter said.
The problems including staffing issues "negatively impacts food service and other critical facility functions," Warner's letter said.
"While the process appears to be currently working at some locations, other locations are facing regular, significant challenges," she said. The letter notes that the contract can be canceled for "persistent defaults."
The prisons agency is disappointed with the company's performance, spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said. She said the state believes Aramark is trying to improve things but that changes must be made quickly.
"While the process is working well at some facilities, we are disappointed that the company has not been able to meet and maintain our standards on a consistent basis," she said in a statement.
Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said the company is delivering on its commitment to save Ohio taxpayers $14 million this year.
"While we have encountered some staffing and operational challenges that are expected with such a large, complex transition, we are working diligently to resolve them," she said in a statement.
Aramark's $110 million deal to feed some 50,000 Ohio prisoners began in September and runs through June 30, 2015, with two opportunities to extend.
At the time, the union representing prison guards criticized the deal, saying it had offered a competitive proposal to keep food service in-house while saving money.
The union has filed a grievance with the state over the contract and begins arbitration next week, leading to questions about the timing of the letter to Aramark, said Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. Prison employees have logged thousands of alleged problems with Aramark, including menu substitutions, delays in the food line, poor food quality and small portions, Mabe said. He called on the state to return food service to a publicly operated system.
The prisons where the state says Aramark staff failed to report for various meals this year are Allen Oakwood Correctional Facility in Lima, Belmont Correctional Facility in St. Clairsville, and Warren Correctional Institution in Lebanon.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus