Franklin County

Bill would require disclosure from state's prison canteens

State Rep. Brent Yonts thinks Aramark is serving food of questionable quality.
State Rep. Brent Yonts thinks Aramark is serving food of questionable quality.

A state lawmaker has pre-filed legislation for the 2011 General Assembly that would require the state's centralized prison canteen operation, which manages between $2 million and $3 million annually, to make its business public.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, was suggested recently by Kentucky Auditor Crit Luallen.

While auditing the state's $12 million contract with Aramark, the food service giant that provides three meals a day at the state's 13 prisons, Luallen's staff found issues with the Kentucky Centralized Inmate Commissary Inc., which is made up of the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, wardens and other top corrections officials.

Aramark runs two of the prison canteens, where inmates buy such items as toiletries and additional food. The audit said the centralized canteen operation, commonly known as KCIC, is not a public entity and is not acting as a public board.

Under state law, all profits from the canteens are used for inmate services, such as academic programs and special events, and services thought to be important in rehabilitation.

The audit found that the corporation is not administered as a public board, even though "the members of KCIC are state employees, are assigned to KCIC as part of their official roles in the Department of Corrections and are performing some KCIC duties during working hours for their state position."

"Legislative changes should be made to require KCIC be treated as a public agency for purposes of procurement, open records and open meetings to ensure transparency and accountability," the audit said.

Yonts said in an interview that he thought it was important to act on Luallen's recommendation. His bill calls for KCIC to comply with the Open Meetings Act, the Open Records Act, and the Kentucky Model Procurement Code, which governs purchases made by the state.

Terry Sebastian, a spokesman for Luallen, said auditors found that services provided by KCIC were in order.

Sebastian said the legislative change would be "a permanent fix" so that KCIC is transparent and accountable to the public.

KCIC is set up as a non-profit corporation and there are no public funds received or spent, said Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

She said the money generated by canteens is put in a separate account that never comes under the control of the state.

KCIC follows the procurement code's competitive bidding process in awarding canteen contracts, but in an informal way, Brislin said. The KCIC board intends to vote formally on using the procurement code, she said.

Corrections officials said in response to the audit that KCIC is audited each year by an outside firm and files semi-annual reports with the General Assembly's Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue.

Brislin said KCIC already adheres to open records and open meetings laws.

However, Sebastian said that was not the case at the time of the audit.

Yonts' legislation also would prohibit prison canteens from being operated by the same company that provides food service at prisons.