Thursday, April 14, 2016

Food Protests Spreads to Third Michigan Prison
Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau
10:14 p.m. EDT April 13, 2016

LANSING — Mass prison food protests that began in the Upper Peninsula moved to Michigan’s Lower Peninsula Tuesday as nearly all Level II prisoners at a Jackson-area prison refused to eat lunch or dinner.

Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Corrections Department, said only about 40 of the roughly 700 Level II prisoners at Cotton went to the chow hall for lunch and dinner on Tuesday. About 1,000 other prisoners, who have different security classifications and use a different kitchen, were not part of the protest, he said.

"It was very passive, like the other ones were," and "very calm." Gautz told the Free Press Wednesday, adding that prisoners' complaints included both the quantity and quality of the food.

Mark Dennis, a spokesman for Michigan's Florida-based prison food vendor, Trinity Services Group, declined to comment Wednesday.

The protest at Cotton may have been instigated by a prisoner who was transferred there for assaulting a prisoner who chose to go to the chow hall during an earlier food protest at Kinross Correctional Facility in the UP, Gautz said.

Food demonstrations began at Kinross on March 20 and 21 and then spread to nearby Chippewa Correctional Facility about a week later.

Both of the UP protests were characterized by extremely high participation rates among inmates, which disturbed both the prison administration and the Michigan Corrections Organization, which is the union representing corrections officers.

"Absolutely, we're still concerned — it's been spreading," said Anita Lloyd, a spokeswoman for the MCO.

Hamburgers — a popular item — were the lunch meal at Cotton on Tuesday, so it's a concern that such a large proportion of Level II inmates would act in unison by staying away, Lloyd said.

"We've asked the administration for a meeting to discuss these ongoing problems and they've agreed" to schedule one, Lloyd said. "They say they are aggressively working on this," but "something more has got to be done."

Gautz said the Cotton protest caught officials by surprise because inmate representatives met with the warden and Trinity representatives Tuesday morning and the warden even joined prisoners to eat a meal. It appeared the issues were being resolved and there was no indication a protest was planned, he said.

There were several food-related protests under problem-plagued Aramark Correctional Services, the former prison food contractor. But reports of food-related disruptions had subsided since Trinity replaced Aramark about nine months ago.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.

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