Head of Corrections Department says Maine prisoners rarely escape

Posted July 13, 2012, at 9:27 p.m.
Last modified July 14, 2012, at 6:12 a.m.
Joseph Ponte
Michael C. York | BDN
Joseph Ponte Buy Photo
Phillip Gardiner
Maine Department of Corrections
Phillip Gardiner
Randall Moulton
Maine Department of Corrections
Randall Moulton

BANGOR, Maine — The commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections said Friday that despite two men’s escape last weekend from the Charleston Correctional Facility, Maine is relatively successful when it comes to keeping inmates inside its minimum security facilities.

“I think Maine has a very good record” when it comes to inmate escapes, Commissioner Joseph Ponte said Friday during a news conference in Augusta held two days after the capture of Randall Moulton, 20, of Bangor and Phillip Gardiner, 24.

On Sunday, the two “just walked out” of the minimum security Charleston prison, which has no perimeter fencing. They somehow traveled the 22 miles to Lakeshore Landing in Glenburn, a town-owned public beach, boat landing and water recreation area on Pushaw Lake.

They were captured on the beach near the boat landing about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday after a tip led to their whereabouts, Judy Plummer, Corrections Department spokeswoman, said on Thursday.

“We had information that one of their grandmothers [had a camp] in the area so we went to that location,” Ponte said, adding that the effort to capture the runaways involved corrections and law enforcement officials.

“We looked at a lot of camps. They actually had set their own camp up and were living in the woods,” Ponte said.

At the time of his escape, Moulton was serving time for burglary and theft by unauthorized taking or transfer. He began his sentence on June 7 and was scheduled to be released in September 2013.

Gardiner had been incarcerated for burglary, robbery and criminal threatening since November 2009 and was scheduled to be released in November 2014.

On Thursday, Gardiner and Moulton were transferred to the Maine State Prison, a maximum security facility in Warren. They remained there Friday evening, a prison official confirmed.

The two escapees face up to five more years behind bars as a result of their flight, Ponte noted Friday.

Ponte said that at any given time, the Charleston facility houses up to 145 prisoners who meet certain criteria and that over the last decade or so — during which nearly 3,200 inmates were housed there — Charleston has had only four escapes involving six prisoners, not counting Moulton and Gardiner.

In order to be eligible for minimum security, an inmate must have less than three years to serve and be deemed a low-risk offender. As part of that determination, corrections officials use an assessment system that takes into account the level of risk they pose and the types of criminal behavior they have engaged in, Ponte said.

“One of the factors we look at is escape history,” Ponte said, adding that neither escapee had a history of serious crimes. “I would doubt these guys will ever see minimum custody again,” he said.

Piscataquis County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy, who also is Penobscot County’s district attorney, said Friday that he would recommend the escapees be sentenced to an additional two years in prison.

“Our office has a policy of recommending significant sentences for Charleston escapees,” Almy said Friday. “The employees at Charleston work hard to make Charleston a valuable institution for prisoners motivated to go back into their communities and prove their worth. Prisoners who escape from Charleston harm the rehabilitation efforts made by others,” he said.

Asked about the cost of catching the escapees, Ponte said he did not have a dollar figure but noted that the Corrections Department as well as state and county law enforcement agencies had people working around the clock for at least 48 hours.

When inmates do escape, facility staff initially must determine who is missing and relay that information to area police and the appropriate administrators and then gather as much information about the inmates as possible — including where they are from, Ponte said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, the inmates go back to the area where they came from,” Ponte said.

“Even if we had more [correctional employees] on duty, it would be impossible to have direct supervision on all of the inmates” at any given time, Ponte said, adding that inmates are free to walk the grounds of the facility.

At various points in the day, inmates are out at jobs in the community so they can earn money and gain work experience for their lives after prison.

“That’s part of the contract with have with them as we try to help them make a transition back into society,” Ponte said.

“I think the staffing [level] was appropriate and that staff did the right things” after the escapes, Ponte said.

Though the department reviews its minimum security program about every six years, Ponte said, “any time we have an incident, we do a very detailed review to see if the classification was appropriate and if there was anything in that process that we should have done differently.”

“Our best defense is proper classification,” he said, adding that the two escapees “made bad choices. Could we have seen something [that would have prevented them from being transferred to minimum security]? That’s something that we’re going to examine.”

Ponte, however, declined to comment on a third escape from a Maine correctional facility this week — that by Dylan Perkin, 20, of Skowhegan.

Perkin escaped Somerset County Jail on Monday. He had less than a month left to serve on his sentence when he scaled a fence at the minimum security facility and ran into the woods Monday afternoon.

A white male with blond hair and hazel eyes who is 5-foot-8 and weighs 150 pounds, Perkin was still eluding capture on Friday.

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