LANSING - A food worker has been fired and banned from state prison properties after she was caught making out with an inmate inside a kitchen cooler on Tuesday, a Corrections Department spokesman confirmed Thursday.
After a corrections officer discovered the pair, prison officials determined the Trinity Services Group worker had also sent photographs to the inmate and had communicated with him using the JPay prison e-mail system, in violation of department rules, spokesman Chris Gautz said.
"An officer discovered the two in the cooler kissing," Gautz told the Free Press. "The photos and JPay discussions were discovered after that."
The incident happened at the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center near Jackson, where new inmates are housed temporarily until they are assigned to prisons where they will serve their sentences. The worker was fired and given a "stop order," preventing her from getting a job at another Michigan prison.
Officials say such incidents of over-familiarity with kitchen workers and inmates — which are seen as major security risks — have declined since August 2015, when Florida-based Trinity replaced Aramark Correctional Services, which is based in Philadelphia, as the state's prison food contractor. But they haven't stopped.
In roughly one year since Trinity took over the prison food service, stop orders have been issued to 98 of its employees, and 71 of those cases involved over-familiarity, which includes not only sexual acts but behavior such as passing notes or even talking privately, in certain cases, Gautz said. In the same time frame, 141 stop orders had been issued to Aramark employees, he said.
In July 2014, four female Aramark prison workers at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia were fired for having inappropriate sexual contact with male inmates inside a walk-in cooler
"Trinity may not have as many stop orders as Aramark did at this point in the contract, but that’s not saying much," said Anita Lloyd, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Corrections Organization union representing corrections officers. To have 98 stop orders "is still inexcusable," she said.
A Trinity spokesman did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
In another Tuesday incident, a corrections officer was stabbed and another suffered scrapes after an attack by an inmate with a weapon at Marquette Branch Prison.
None of the injuries was life-threatening, a spokesman confirmed.
In the incident at Marquette Branch Prison at Marquette, an inmate with the highest security rating — a Level 5 — used a weapon to attack a corrections officer, who suffered superficial puncture wounds in the arm and head, Gautz said.
Another officer, who responded and helped to restrain the inmate inside the housing unit, suffered scrapes to the head and arm, he said.
Both officers were sent to a hospital for assessment and treatment and released, he said.
Lloyd said the inmate had a sharpened blade 3 or 4 inches long, and the officer who was stabbed had not returned to work as of Thursday.
"We are very glad this incident wasn't worse," Lloyd said. "It could have been much worse."
The inmate, who is serving a life sentence, was transferred to another prison and could face charges, Gautz said. Michigan State Police were notified. It will be up to the local prosecutor to determine whether charges should be brought against an inmate who is not expected to ever be released, he said.
An investigation continues into how the inmate obtained the weapon and what prompted the attack, Gautz said. Based on initial reports, "the officer gave the prisoner an order to do something, and he took issue with that," he said.
Aramark began a three-year, $145-million contract in December 2013, replacing about 370 unionized state employees who had helped provide meals to about 43,000 prisoners at 33 facilities.
The Free Press, using Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, documented a litany of problems under Aramark’s watch. Issues have ranged from meal shortages, to maggots in the kitchen, the smuggling of drugs and other contraband by Aramark employees, Aramark workers engaging in sex acts with prisoners and attempting to hire one inmate to have another inmate assaulted.
Trinity's contract included several financial sweeteners and is estimated to cost the state $158.8 million over three years.
(2016 © Detroit Free Press)