DENVER (CBS4) - The Denver Sheriff Department is defending its decision to hire Aramark Correctional Services, a private company that provides food services for jails and prisons. The Denver Post first reported that inmates in Jefferson and Arapahoe county jails have complained that the food from Aramark was expired, stored at improper temperatures and in too-small portions.
Denver City Council will vote Monday on the $9 million agreement between the city and Aramark. If approved, the two-year contract will begin on July 1 with the option for three additional one-year extensions.
"Sheriff Diggins and Chief Line are confident that Aramark, a company that offers food services in 22 countries and about 400 domestic clients, will provide quality meals to the people in our custody and our staff," stated the Denver Sheriff Department. "We have safeguards in place to ensure this occurs and look forward to a successful transition."
The sheriff department says the contract with Aramark is needed because fewer low-security inmates are eligible to work in jail kitchens. DSD officials say the decline is due to sentencing trends during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mississippi prisons ended their contract with Aramark in April. An attorney representing 230 inmates said food at the Mississippi State Penitentiary was often "spoiled, rotten, molded or uncooked" and that portion sizes were too small. In Michigan, Maggots were reportedly found twice in a prison's food service area in 2014.
The Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office has employed Aramark for at least 15 years. In a lawsuit filed in 2019, an Arapahoe County inmate claimed they were underfed.
"There are days where the only significant source of protein is some lunch meat in the lunch sack, which is probably about a dozen grams. This is not enough protein for proper health and maintenance, nor is it enough food in general," the inmate wrote in the complaint. "This is not just an issue of stomach discomfort, it can actually lead to critically low blood-sugar levels and other important nutrient deficiencies."
A spokesperson for ACSO told CBS4 that inmate safety is a priority, "If questions arise about food quality/safety, those questions would be brought to the attention of Aramark by our jail command so they could be addressed."
In a lawsuit filed in December against the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and Aramark, an inmate claimed they found metal shavings in a brownie. JCSO confirmed the incident and said the mixer used to make the brownies was maintained by the sheriff's office.
"I was told the mixer had been broken for some time," the inmate wrote in the complaint. "The sergeant said Aramark should not have used the mixer."
In a statement to CBS4, Aramark said, "allegations included in inmate lawsuits do not accurately represent the work of our people or the quality of what we provide to those we serve."
DSD plans to appoint a member of their leadership team to oversee food service operations with Aramark. The sheriff department says Aramark will be required to comply with Denver Food Establishment Regulations and regular city health inspections. DSD inmates can also file complaints about food service through the department's Grievance and Incident Review Team.
The sheriff department says it has voluntary accreditations with the American Correctional Association and National Commission on Corrections Healthcare. According to documents, the department plans to hire Steritech to conduct a third-party food safety audit each year.
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