January 22

Lawmakers may restructure Maine's Department of Corrections

A proposal by Commissioner Joseph Ponte would eliminate an associate commissioner and add a deputy commissioner.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Legislators on Wednesday will consider a proposal to restructure the top administration within the Department of Corrections, giving the commissioner the authority to pick a deputy commissioner and creating a clearer chain of command.

click image to enlarge

Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte, above, would get more flexibility to shape his leadership team under a bill introduced by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland.

Andy Molloy / Kennebec Journal Staff Photographer

The bill, introduced by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, would eliminate one of the department’s three existing associate commissioner positions and add the deputy commissioner post, which would be exempt from the state’s civil service testing and qualification process.

Associate Commissioner Jody Breton, who plans to testify in support of the bill before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday morning, said Commissioner Joseph Ponte sought the change to make the management structure of the Department of Corrections more like that of other states and to establish a second in command.

“We’re looking for the flexibility of the next commissioners to be able to put in who they want in that top position,” Breton said.

The proposal, which would not cost Maine taxpayers any additional money, also would change the function of the existing associate commissioners. Currently, Breton is the associate commissioner for legislative and program services, Cynthia Brann serves as associate commissioner for adult services, and Joseph Fitzpatrick is associate commissioner for juvenile services. Under the proposal, those statutory designations would be eliminated.

Breton said there was nothing that she, Brann or Fitzpatrick had done to prompt the commissioner to seek the change.

“The three associate commissioners already serve at the pleasure of the commissioner, so there’s actually no change to us,” Breton said.

Breton said the proposal would not affect any contracted labor positions, so she doesn’t foresee any opposition.

Dion, the House chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said he introduced that proposal and another bill at the commissioner’s request. The other bill, which would change the title of superintendent of the Maine Correctional Center in Windham to warden, will also be heard Wednesday morning.

“When you look at a police department or sheriff’s department, there is a deputy chief,” Dion said. “In those other agencies, they are usually appointed by the chief of police.”

Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff and Portland deputy police chief, said that when the selection process is restricted by the civil service process, “there’s not much flexibility.”

Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham and a member of the committee, co-sponsored both bills but said he made no promise to vote for either one. He said that while he doesn’t see anything objectionable in the bills, debate at the committee’s future work sessions could reshape the proposals. The Department of Corrections runs the state’s prisons and correctional facilities for adults and juveniles and the state’s probation services.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:


Twitter: @scottddolan

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