County Commission Considers $3.6 Million Prison Food Contract With Aramark

By Bill Dries

Who feeds those behind bars in Shelby County has been a politically volatile government issue for years.

It touches on several political hot spots including whether or not to use local companies and local subcontractors, the privatization of a county government function and the possible loss of government jobs in the transition.

Aramark Correctional Services Inc. already has the contract for food services at the Shelby County Jail Downtown as well as the Women’s Jail, commonly referred to as Jail East.

The commission is to vote Monday on a $3.6 million amendment that would add the Shelby County Division of Corrections on Mullins Station Road.

The commission meets at 3 p.m. at the Vasco Smith Administration Building. Follow the meeting @tdnpols,

The resolution is an amendment to a 2011 contract that was renewed for a second one-year period this past February for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Under terms of the proposed contract amendment, Aramark would agree to hire 25 among the current 31 county government employees serving and preparing food at the corrections center. Aramark also would provide $120,000 in equipment to deliver the meals.

The county would pay Aramark with county enterprise funds, not from general fund or property tax revenue.

The administration of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said in committee sessions last week that it expects county employees hired by Aramark to be paid what they now are paid by the county.

The debate among commissioners in committee last week is expected to continue at Monday’s session with amendments expected as well commitments sought from Aramark to contract with local and minority-owned businesses.

The administration attempted to include an Aramark corrections center contract in 2011 but withdrew it because of commissioner resistance to a total privatization of food services.

In the 2011 debate, issues included Aramark’s refusal to pay hourly employees sick leave.

The new move to include the corrections center comes as the state is to drop $1.9 million in funding the county receives for housing prisoners who would otherwise go to state prisons to serve their sentences.

The Aramark contract amendment would save the county an estimated $1.6 million of that.

Meanwhile, a move to contribute $250,000 to what would be a joint city-county $500,000 homeowners’ disaster relief fund will not be on Monday’s agenda.


The measure proposed by commissioner Eddie Jones was delayed at the March 9 commission meeting.

And in committee sessions last week, the administration continued to question whether it is legal for county funding to be given to private landowners under those circumstances.

The fund, which the Memphis City Council has already approved and funded with $250,000, is a disaster recovery program that would be available to homeowners like those in Whitehaven and other areas of Memphis whose homes were flooded Sept. 11.

The damage total from the flooding – which came with storms that proved to be too much for overgrown and blocked storm drains – did not meet the federal disaster assistance threshold.

Jones is to meet with county attorneys and others on the still pending resolution.