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Maggots in meals: State responds to latest prison food service issues

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More problems plague the food in Michigan’s prisons. This time it’s maggots.

An investigation by The Detroit Free Press found three separate incidents over the summer of maggots in the food at a Jackson-area prison.

This isn’t the first time there have been complaints against Trinity Services Group. Last May the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan obtained reports that a different facility had maggot-infested potatoes.

Food service has been outsourced for about five years now.

“It’s no secret that we’ve had issues with food service since the inception,” said Chris Gautz, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The transition to privatized food services has been a rocky one. The state switched to Trinity in 2015. That was after allegations of unsanitary conditions and other food problems arose with a previous vendor.

Gautz says the department was made aware of the current problems. So far the department has fined the service more than $3.8 million for various contract violations.  

“It has been an issue,” he said. “We’re continuing to work through that as best we can. But staffing is really at the heart of the issue, when they can’t find or retain enough qualified staff, that’s when problems arise.”

Gautz says the department has amped up their oversight of the food service provider. One focus of their contract monitors is to make sure the food tastes better. 

“They’re also going to be going to the heart of it, which stems from some of the prisoner complaints, is the food quality,” he said. “And so these monitors now are going to be looking at specific meals that are served, and they’re gonna walk back and they’re gonna look at what recipe was used, did they follow the recipe.

Gautz says the department also conducts sanitation and contract reviews at the prisons. If a prison scores less than 90 percent, it receives weekly reviews for several months.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R