Prison system boss dodges questions

There are no tough questions only tough answers. Just ask Heidi Washington.

A veteran of almost two decades inside the bowels of the state prison system, Ms.Washington now runs the joint and in a rare opportunity for the media to ask her some questions, she was not exactly forthcoming on what to do about providing daily chow for her 38,000 or so inmates.

Starting in 2012, state lawmakers told the corrections director to scrap the old system of paying state civil servants to fix and serve the food in favor of an outside vendor that would save tax dollars.

How’d that work out?

The first vendor Aramark lasted a couple of years and after a steady stream of negative press such as maggots in the spuds and sex in the food cooler with inmates, the Snyder administration cried uncle and bounced that firm in favor of Trinity food services.

“I’m confident in their commitment to provide quality service,” director Washington opined after the new contract was penned.

How’s that working out?

Trinity’s “quality service” has produced some of the same headlines that haunted Aramark even though the state has saved about $11 million.

Since the capitol press hounds had never crossed examined her on this, she was asked how this privatization experiment was working out?

“There are challenges,”she stated the obvious. “We continue to work with our vendor every day and we continue to hold them accountable.”

To wit, Trinity has been fined for contract violations to the tune of a cool $3.8 million in two years. That included banning 176 of their employees from ever entering a prison again.

She was then asked if she was pleased?

“We have standards and we hold them to them,” she reported without answering the question.

This became the trend.

How often is the company missing those standards?

Now she pauses, and says, “they … um … on a regular basis we monitor the contract and we’re going to continue to do that,”

Asked if she was ordered to hire a private firm, would she do it, she punted for the third time.

“Well right now I’m working with what we have at hand.”

Would you be better off to return to the previous civil service handling of food?

“I’m not going to respond to that right now,” she turns the fog machine on full speed.

Well then what if the chair of the Senate prison budget asked you for your recommendation on what system to use, you would have no answer?

There’s another pause … four seconds and then, “like I said, I’m going to continue to work on the system we have and we’ll see what happens with that.”

So you have no answer?

“I’m not going to answer any further,” and with that she walked away.

Democratic Sen. Steve Bieda (Macomb County) who has worked on prison issues, laments that it was “sad” that she did not have a recommendation. After all state taxpayers are shelling out $158 million and if there’s a better way to do this to keep peace in the prison system where food is a behavior modifier, maybe she should say what she believes.

Perhaps she is afraid to do that, he was asked.

“That’s one of the reasons why it’s sad isn’t it?”