February 23, 2013

Trouble behind Maine's prison bars

A fired warden. A prison captain charged with assault. And some say the Maine State Prison's problems are much larger.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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The arrest this week of a prison captain and last month's dismissal of the prison warden are indicative of larger problems, say people who are familiar with the workings of the Maine State Prison in Warren, ME.


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Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte has brought in new people in an effort to change the culture, but some say Ponte is part of the problem.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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"Most of these people are going to be released at some point," he said. "How we treat them in here directly affects how they will act out there, and we need the public to feel safe about that."

Ponte said the changes come down to a "return on investment."

"Can we improve the chances of an inmate becoming a responsible citizen in our state?" he wrote in his email. "In order to do that we have to measure outcomes and make adjustments when we do not see the results we had hoped for."

The Rev. Stan Moody, a former prison chaplain who still does outreach with inmates, said he has been frustrated about the atmosphere at the prison since before Ponte took over as commissioner. He said many of the problems stem from a "good old boys network" of guards.

Moody said Cutler's conduct was exposed because of the assault charge but it was not an isolated incident.

Judy Garvey with the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition said Ponte has good intentions and her group is generally supportive of reform efforts.

"The commissioner is trying to clean house, but he cannot micromanage each prison," Garvey said. "We've been hoping that change would happen, because there has been a lot going on at that prison in terms of drug use, inappropriate sexual contact and other things that don't make it into the news." 

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


Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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Additional Photos

Patricia  Barnhart, Maine State Prison
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Patricia Barnhart, who was fired a prison warden last month.



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