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Maine makes public new database of inmates and felons on probation

Posted Jan. 10, 2012, at 8:42 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 11, 2012, at 6:23 a.m.

Poll Question

Thirty-six convicted murderers and 24 kidnappers live on probation in Maine communities, a new database created for the Maine Department of Corrections shows. The website allows people to search through the database of state’s 9,160 adult prisoners and probationers.

The goal, the department said, is to allow victims to track their abusers and to reduce the workload for corrections staff members who typically handle information requests.

Prisoner advocates say the new database is a scary tool that might prevent probationers from integrating into their communities.

Of the felons in the database, more than two-thirds — about 7,000 — are living in Maine communities on probation. The rest remain in prison.

The database can paint a frightening picture. One region, which corrections officials refer to as the Bangor area, has 1,888 convicts on probation. Of them, there are 370 drug offenders, 36 arsonists, 202 sex offenders, 20 people convicted of manslaughter, four kidnappers and one man who was convicted of criminally using explosives.

Attempts on Tuesday to contact some of the convicted murderers in the Bangor area were unsuccessful.

The use of “Bangor area” by the Corrections Department is pretty liberal. In fact, the Bangor area covers half of Maine.

“Bangor is Newport to Fort Kent,” explained Christopher Oberg, Corrections Department IT project manager.

Corrections officials say the information is worth making public.

“Knowing offenders are running around might change the way people think about where they live,” said Judy Plummer, Maine Department of Corrections director of special programs. “This puts an awareness out there that people released from prison are out there.”

Prisoner advocates worry about how the new database will affect the lives of people who are now on the right path. Some people in the database only committed minor crimes and served no prison time, said Judy Garvey of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition. Those people might now not be able to easily re-enter their communities.

“If I had committed a crime when I was 18 and now I was 26 and was sober and got my life back together but was still on probation, all of that [information] would be accessible now and would prevent me from getting gainful employment or becoming recognized as a positive influence in my community,” Garvey said Tuesday. “It’s a civil liberties question here. I think this is very scary.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has similar concerns.

“Lots of states have [these databases], but it’s shocking to us in Maine because it’s new. Our concern about this database or any registry like this is that it could be a barrier to reintegration,” said Zachary Heiden, ACLU of Maine’s legal director. “Most people in prison are someday going to be out of prison and we want them to be able to lead productive law-abiding lives. If people are ostracized and unable to find jobs or places to live it will be that much harder for them to lead responsible normal lives.”

To protect probationers’ privacy to some extent, the Department of Corrections lists their locations only by the city where their regional office is located. For instance, a felon on probation in the region that covers southern and western Maine would be listed as living in the Portland area. The Portland area supports 2,359 probationers, 15 of whom are murderers.

One region contains main offices in Auburn and Augusta and thus lists probationers as living in either the Auburn area or Augusta area. The Auburn area is home to 2,061 convicts and the Augusta area has about 700 probationers.

The searchable database can be located at the Corrections Department’s website at maine.gov/corrections.

Users can search for a felon on probation or in jail by crime, age, name and other factors such as height or weight. For instance, a search for women convicted of burglary who have a tattoo and live on probation in the Bangor area turns up 22 names.

Aside from driver’s license-type information, the database shows what each person has been convicted of, the individual’s release date, probation conditions, prisoner ID number, ethnicity and details about any scars or tattoos.

Home addresses are one piece of information the public won’t find on the department’s website.

“A few years back the state had a terrible instance where through the sex offender registry someone was able to find the address of offenders and he murdered them. While the office they’re being supervised out of is public, we wanted to keep it at a level where we wouldn’t find ourselves in that situation,” said Oberg, the Correction’s Department IT project manager.

Oberg referred to the April 2006 weekend in which Stephen A. Marshal shot and killed two registered sex offenders in Maine before fatally shooting himself on a bus outside Boston’s South Station.

The Maine Department of Corrections said the system, released to the public Jan. 6, will reduce staff time spent filling public information requests and won’t take money from the department’s budget. The database is funded through fees from an online money deposit service used by friends and family members to give money to prisoners to buy items at the prison store. Corrections charges about $2.40 per transaction and those fees will maintain the database, which is updated daily.

Although the new site was released to the public last week, it had been in a test phase.

Law enforcement officers have access to information like never before, according to Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross. Now police instantly can pull up all conditions of a person’s probation, which has been particularly helpful, he said.

In light of privacy arguments, Ross said the pros outweigh the cons.

“[Not all of the] 2,000 felons in the area are all bad people — some are effective members of society. Others will continue to recycle into our facilities over and over and over,” Ross said. “A lot of people are embarrassed about what’s happened in their life and this makes it hard, but sex offenders have to register, this is a consequence of their actions and the public has a right to know.”

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