January 31, 2013

Plan to close Maine prison center draws concern

The Hallowell pre-release facility's low-risk inmates perform public restitution.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

This photo taken on on Thursday January 10, 2013 shows the Central Maine Pre-Release Center in Hallowell. State employee union representatives and some lawmakers are upset at what they say was a unilateral decision by Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte to close a prison pre-release center in Hallowell.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

"I'm concerned because it seems this is a very effective and productive facility, so for it to be closed, (lawmakers) should have a better handle on why," Maine Senate President Justin Alford says.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Ponte and other corrections officials have declined comment on Barnhart's firing because the two sides are still negotiating a severance agreement. Attempts to reach Barnhart were not successful.

"I can't discuss specifics, but my thought is that the commissioner did things correctly," said Plummer, and lawmakers should not make a habit of questioning personnel decisions by department leaders.

Gerzofsky said he's not concerned about Barnhart's dismissal, either, although if he got more information about the circumstances, he would certainly question the commissioner.

Mackie sees Barnhart's ouster differently.

"People have asked me why the union is speaking on behalf of management, but there are so few managers willing to work with the union and its employees, and she was one of them," he said.

"I think (her dismissal) goes hand in hand with what (Ponte) wants to do: Replace people with those who will do what he says."

Judy Garvey, co-founder of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said she has been told that Barnhart was not a strong leader and could not control members of her staff, many of whom predated their boss by decades.

"The commissioner has been trying to clean house and reform the system, but he can't micromanage each prison," Garvey said.

Barnhart got embroiled in a controversy in the summer of 2011 when she bought five acres of state-owned land in Thomaston at a price well below market value.

After an investigation, the Attorney General's Office ruled that the sale was void because it violated conflict-of-interest laws. Barnhart was ordered to sell the property back to the state for the same price she paid.

 

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

 

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