March 14, 2012

Maine jail analyzes lapses
after inmates' tryst

Even inmate checks every 15 minutes failed to detect the absence of Arien L'Italien, who is now at Maine's most secure prison.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The maximum-security inmate who authorities say snuck out of his cell in the Cumberland County Jail to have sex with a female inmate was transferred Tuesday to the Maine State Prison's Supermax facility in Warren.

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Photo composite by David Hench/Staff Writer

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Arien L'Italien and Karla Wilson

Additional Photos Below

Arien L'Italien, 23, of Biddeford, a federal detainee, was moved to the state's most secure prison after Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce and U.S. Marshal for Maine Noel March met Tuesday to discuss the incident.

L'Italien is accused of jamming his cell door lock so he could open it later, then crawling along a floor to avoid detection by two corrections officers late Friday night in the maximum-security unit.

He crawled to the maximum-security cell of Karla Wilson, 25, who had sabotaged her cell door's lock, authorities say. After the two had sex, L'Italien was seen making his way back to his cell at 12:50 a.m. Saturday.

Joyce revealed Tuesday that indicator lights would have shown that L'Italien's and Wilson's cell doors were open, but the panel where the lights are displayed is not monitored at night.

"There is an indicator light that is seen. Somebody pays special attention to it 16 hours a day," Joyce said. "For the other eight, when everybody is supposed to be locked down and sleeping ... we don't have that extra set of eyes."

An indicator also could have been visible in the jail's master control room, where officers control virtually all movement through the jail's secure doors and take some responsibilities for maximum security after hours.

However, the officers would have seen the symbol indicating an open cell door only if they called up the video panel showing the maximum-security unit.

Joyce said officials are investigating to determine exactly which systems failed, what changes are needed and whether any discipline is warranted.

One policy that may have been ignored was the extent to which corrections officers check on inmates during rounds every 15 minutes.

Jeffrey Schwartz, a prison security consultant based in California, said officers who do regular checks should see "flesh and movement" -- flesh to make sure the inmate is there, and movement to make sure the inmate is not in medical distress.

Such a check would have alerted officers to L'Italien's absence because he had stuffed the bedding on his bunk to make it look like he was still there.

Joyce said his officers are instructed to look for breathing and flesh.

Schwartz, who said he has no direct knowledge of the Maine incident, was not surprised that inmates found a way to thwart cell door locks.

"There are many older facilities where inmates can, with varying degrees of ease, spring their own locks and let themselves out of their cells," he said.

The Cumberland County Jail, built 18 years ago, is considered modern, so Schwartz said its locks shouldn't be easy to overcome.

"If it's bad enough, you have to order new locks, and that's very expensive," he said. "Fixing the locking mechanism is going to be very cheap compared to what the lawsuit would cost you if an inmate gets out and kills another inmate."

Joyce said that soon after he was elected sheriff, he questioned why the day-room doors in the maximum-security unit were propped open at night, and was told it was because the metallic clang of the locking mechanism would wake inmates every 15 minutes when officers made their rounds.

After getting out of his cell Friday night, L'Italien went through two open day-room doors to get to Wilson's cell.

Schwartz said that leaving doors open defeats the security systems built into a correctional facility.

"That's a staffing issue," he said, "and it's particularly serious because the two things jails care most about are protection of the community and staff safety, and what they're doing endangers those."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce

2010 File Photo/John Patriquin

  


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