Care, food privatization push for Michigan prisons tabled


LANSING — Michigan will not privatize nearly $350 million in prisoner health care and food costs, keeping intact nearly 1,700 state workers’ jobs, a state official said on Friday.

State Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said none of three contracts out for bid would have achieved the necessary 5 percent savings as required by state rules. State officials also decided not to contract with companies to handle inmates’ mental health care or meals.

Bidding out more of the prison health system could have been the largest privatization of state government services in Michigan history.

The decision not to do so will come as welcome news to psychologists, nurses, and others who work in 32 Michigan prisons.

It may anger Republican lawmakers and others demanding savings in the corrections budget that eats up much of the general fund.

Mr. Marlan said Michigan tried for the first time to get a true comparison of wages and benefits for private workers versus state employees.

With state workers paying 4 percent toward future pension benefits and retiree health care being eliminated for new hires, Mr. Marlan said, private companies cannot show as much savings even though they may pay workers less.

State civil service rules require any move to privatize a government function must save at least 5 percent. Low bidders for the three contracts would have saved between 3 percent and 4.5 percent, Mr. Marlan said.