Catering giant Aramark has once again been caught serving maggot-ridden food to prisoners.
Earlier this year, multiple prisons in Michigan with Aramark contracts were found to be serving maggots to prisoners. In a separate case, Aramark was fined $142,000 in Ohio for a litany of offenses including failing to hire enough workers, inadequate food quality/portion size, and alleged improprieties in prisoner/worker relationships. Today we receive news that two prisons in Ohio, the Ohio Reformatory for Women and Trumbull Correctional Institute, have been found to be serving prisoners maggot-ridden food.
Full disclosure: I am a former (technically still current, though I haven't worked a shift since I started this job) employee at Sodexo, one of Aramark's biggest competitors. So let's just get that out of the way.
Regardless of who I've worked for, though, there's no way in which this isn't horrifying. I'd say "what the hell, Aramark," but I know exactly what the hell: Aramark was the proverbial lowest-bidder (their current contract in Ohio budgets them just $3.61 to feed each prisoner per day) and American attitudes towards prisons (e.g. "That's where the bad people are/prisoners are universally evil and not deserving of basic humanity"*) combine to make abuse not just possible, but probable. I'd be shocked if this wasn't happening at a much, much bigger number of prisons than we're hearing about.
As Jezebel's own interview with Cecily McMillan made abundantly clear, prisoners in America are blatantly abused, and we turn a blind eye because it's easier for us to believe that "in prison = evil." It's easier for us to seek vengeance and punishment than the sort of rehabilitation that could actually benefit American society — never mind that this black and white view of prisoners as unabashed monsters sits squarely at odds with every fact and statistic you can possibly find.
The US prison population currently sits at 2.4 million — at 743 per 100,000 members of the US population, it's the highest of any country in the world on a per capita basis**; the majority of these are non-violent offenders, most of whom are in prison on drug charges. We also put more women in jail than anyone else — roughly ten percent of American prisoners are women, double the average number in other countries (the rate of incarcerated women has also increased dramatically since 2000). In addition, African-Americans account for nearly 40% of the prison population despite comprising just 13.6% of the American population. More than anything else, all of these numbers are driven by longer sentences for the aforementioned non-violent drug offenders (the "War on Drugs" that has, of course, been so very successful in this country and around the world) as well as the privatization of prisons.
In the long term, what we're doing is untenable — even some sane Conservatives (admittedly a dying breed) acknowledge that the current system only benefits the Prison-Industrial Complex. Treating prisoners as subhuman also has the effect of increasing the recidivism rate, which makes sense — if you take an average person and place them in a brutal, inhumane environment, it's no shock that they adapt to fit that environment as a survival mechanism. While maggot-ridden food is only a part of that, and might seem to pale in comparison to some of the other brutal treatment that goes on, it's indicative of a larger trend.
If we keep going on our current path, it will ultimately destroy us — something needs to change, and quickly.
* Anyone about to forward this theory in the comments: you are less human than most of the prisoners you deride.
** It does need to be noted that we don't have accurate information on China or North Korea, two countries theorized to be among the world's leading incarcerators — although in China's case, even human rights activists peg the number at around 218 per 100,000, less than 1/3 of the US number.
Image via sakhorn/Shutterstock.