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Kentucky prison food contract up for bid

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The $12 million contract to feed Kentucky's 21,200 prison inmates is up for bid for the first time since a 2010 audit found significant problems with the state's current contractor.

But some of Kentucky's biggest critics of Philadelphia-based Aramark now say they are satisfied with the company's response to the criticism.

Aramark has held the contract since 2005 when Kentucky first privatized inmate meals. At the time, it cost the state $3.49 per meal. Aramark provided the meals for $2.34 each. The difference has saved Kentucky taxpayers about $51 million over the 10-year contract.

But lawmakers started asking questions about the food service after a 2009 riot at the medium-security Northpoint Training Facility when inmates started a fire that injured several inmates and officers. An official Department of Corrections investigation concluded the food was not the primary cause for the riot. But it prompted lawmakers to ask then state Auditor Crit Luallen to investigate the state's contract with Aramark.

In 2010, the auditor's office found billing errors of more than $36,000 that benefited Aramark. The audit also could not confirm that Aramark used proper ingredients or followed food safety standards. An Aramark spokeswoman said the company fully cooperated with the audit and worked with the Department of Corrections to fix the problems.

Since then, Aramark has had issues in other states. Michigan officials put Aramark on notice after finding maggots in some potatoes at a state prison. Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said the company immediately disposed of the potatoes and did not serve them. She said the company has ordered a third-party auditor to visit every facility in Michigan to make sure they meet health and safety standards.

State Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, was one of Aramark's biggest critics. He said he received about 30 letters a month from inmates and their families complaining about the food. But since the 2010 audit, Yonts said the complaints have stopped.

"The problem has been apparently cured. I think that's because Corrections has done the job they are supposed to have done," state Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said.

And State Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Aramark seems to have resolved its issues.

"I wouldn't have an issue at this point," he said.

Aramark's contract expires at the end of this year, and Kentucky officials have already put out a request for proposals and hope to decide on a contractor by September. Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler confirmed the company would be bidding again for the contract.

"We have a very strong record of providing state inmates with nutritious meals while saving the Commonwealth and taxpayers millions of dollars each year," she said.

But Aramark could be getting some competition. South Dakota-based CBM Managed Services is considering bidding on the contract.

"We can make this happen and provide a better service and give the state what they are really looking for," said Shane Sejnoha, CBM's vice president of operations.

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