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Audits Reveals Problems With Privatized Food Service at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Jail

by Jayson Hawkins

Two audits released July 20, 2020 revealed a series of shortcomings by a food service contractor tasked with providing meals to juvenile detainees and in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County.

Florida-based contractor Trinity Services Group was paid $3.5 million to provide three meals a day to prisoners at the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center and Allegheny County Jail. The audits were conducted by the County Controller’s office and covered the period of June 2018 to June 2019. Controller Chelsea Wagner’s audits noted what she called “several instances of noncompliance” with contract provisions.

Much of the audit’s 34 pages focused on flawed record-keeping and Trinity either over-charging for meals or failing to reimburse the county for commissions as stipulated in the contract. The Shuman Center overcharged the county by $8,413, including more than $6,000 for food donated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The jail overbilled the county more than $1,600.

There are also discrepancies concerning meals from a program called Trinity Take-Out, which allows prisoners to order specialty items like cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches at prices ranging from $12 to $20. Trinity’s contract with the county provides for the receipt of a 30% commission from Trinity Take-Out sales, but the audit discovered significant arrears in these payments at both the juvenile facility and jail.

Several other shortcomings were noted by the Controller’s office. Trinity had failed to provide ServSafe food service certification training to its prisoner workers. The salad bar at the juvenile center had been converted to staff-only use, and juvenile prisoners were denied access to extra portions. There was “little to no fresh produce,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Trinity also failed to respond to three-fourths of prisoner food complaints written within the required 72 hours, and the company completely failed to provide semi-annual health examinations to all food service workers.

County officials expressed concern over the failure of the company to meet its obligations and the inherent problems in a system that allows prisoners to purchase special meals.

County councilwoman and Jail Oversight Board Member Bethany Hallam declared that Trinity is “incentivized to provide low-quality food.”

Brad Korinski, chief legal counsel for the controller, went further. “The food rewards counter creates a two-tiered system in the jail. The socioeconomic reality that lands people in jail then becomes amplified in our jail.”

A written statement from Trinity contested the controller’s findings, saying there were “quite a few inconsistencies” and “in some cases, complete fabrications.” Trinity joined with jail officials in promising that each of the shortcomings would be rectified in the near future.

At the controller’s office, Brad Korinski remained skeptical. He pointed to the dissonance between the company denying the accuracy of the audits; findings and then promising to correct the shortcomings. “I think that speaks to the type of company you are and the findings we found in our audit.”

Trinity’s contract with Allegheny County was subsequently renewed for another year.