Some things generated
pride and optimism - such as the mission change in Waldo from a 72-hour hold
facility, to a pre-release center. The
center is designed to take inmates with low safety-risk, but high risk of
re-offense and provide them with quality services to reduce recidivism. There
was also excitement about the increased use and availability of video
however, raised concern about the state of Maine Corrections and the commitment
of some within the state to work speedily towards resolution of serious
The governor's office, for example, still has
yet to fill one of the slots on the Board of Corrections – a slot that has been
open since the Board began its duties last summer and a slot which has since
been designated as reserved for someone with mental health expertise. During yesterday’s
presentation, the Board of Visitors for the Maine State Prison, a facility which has been singled out for problems, also reported that their
mental-health-background was open. According to their chair, Jon Wilson, this is the second time this
particular slot had been left unfilled for an extended period of time.
The similar experiences and extended timeframes
of the openings suggest that filling these positions has not been a priority of the
Governor's office and that is tragic. The thought and discussion that goes into
developing these Boards' decisions and recommendations would benefit greatly
from the voice of someone with mental health expertise. Every law enforcement and corrections officer
in the state acknowledges the reality behind that need, which is that prisons
and jails are the largest mental health providers in the state - with estimates
of mental illness among inmates ranging from 65-85%.
It only makes sense that the steps
taken to improve systems and outcomes for prisoners should be made with direct
input from at least one individual with a mental health background. I mean, isn't recognition of that need the whole
reason those seats were designated in the first place?
of, and retaliation against, individuals attempting to raise concerns – or
behaviors that staff perceive as intimidation or retaliation.
that staff or prisoners experience or perceive as harassment and discrimination
of various forms.
and/or lack of respect for management as a whole, or of certain individuals
within the chain of command, that appears to be fed, at least in part, by staff
perceptions that a strong “good old boy” network exists.
or actual failure to report situations that are personally concerning to staff,
appear unethical, or that otherwise expose the State to unnecessary risks and
The changes sought in the OPEGA and Board of Visitors
reports are crucial to ensuring that the eighth, fourteenth, and first
amendments rights of prisoners are protected.
They are also key to providing corrections staff with a work environment
that supports ethical, non-discriminatory behavior. Too often in these issue areas crises happen
and the great plans for reform get pushed to the side. Commissioner Magnusson suggested at yesterday’s
meeting that the recent death of Sheldon Weinstein was one such crisis. What is feared is that the very cultural problems outlined
in the OPEGA and Board of Visitors reports contributed to Weinstein's death, making it clear that they should be prioritized, rather than pushed to aside.
Here’s hoping that the Committee keeps the spotlight turned