Civil rights attorney to discuss for-profit prisons in Maine

Posted May 03, 2011, at 6:50 p.m.
Last modified May 03, 2011, at 8:03 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — A discussion about building private prisons in Maine will take place for the second time in as many months in Pittsfield on Thursday, when Bangor-based civil rights attorney Eric Mehnert presents a talk at the First Universalist Church.

Menhert will address both the economic and civil rights impact of the for-profit prison industry during an interactive discussion, which will include a question-and-answer session, according to a press release. The event is is the second in a new series of forums at the First Universalist Church.

There are now no for-profit prisons in Maine, although the Legislature is considering a bill that would allow the Corrections Corporation of America to build a private prison here on the condition that the state allows Maine prisoners in CCA facilities out of state.

Mehnert, who opposes private prisons, wrote recently that “much like Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us to beware the military-industrial complex because when the war became a profit-making enterprise we would always be at war, we need to beware the correction-industrial complex,” according to the press release. “When prisons become a profit-making enterprise we will always need prisoners.”

Mehnert, a Colby College alumnus who practices in state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court, has focused on civil rights work during much of his career. He has handled employment and housing discrimination cases and defended the rights of institutionalized people. He also has served as the chief of enforcement for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Mehnert is also tribal court judge for the Penobscot Nation on Indian Island in Maine.

This is the second community forum on private prisons spearheaded by Pittsfield resident Trudy Ferland, who took an interest in and came out in opposition to the issue after she learned that CCA is considering building a private prison in Milo. A talk presented by Ferland last month at Pittsfield Public Library turned into more of a debate when officials from Milo attended the event.

Thursday’s talk is free and open to all, though donations will be accepted. Coffee and tea will be served. The event begins at 7 p.m. at the First Universalist Church in Pittsfield at 112 Easy St., which is just off Main Street.

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