WARREN, Maine — The firing of Maine State Prison Warden Patricia Barnhart on Thursday appeared to be over management issues and involved nothing improper on her part, according to the Senate chairman of the legislative committee that oversees the corrections system.
Despite numerous sources confirming her dismissal Friday, administrators with the Maine Corrections Department remained mum Friday, still refusing to confirm the firing or comment on who is currently overseeing the state’s largest prison.
A message left Friday with Commissioner Joseph Ponte was not returned. Calls to other department staff were referred to Associate Commissioner Jody Breton who declined Friday to answer any questions regarding Barnhart’s status.
State Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, who is the Senate chair of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said Friday the commissioner informed him and House Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, on Monday that management changes were coming.
Commissioner Ponte did not specify to lawmakers what the reasons for change were, although Gerzofsky said he believed it was a management issue and did not involve anything improper.
“I asked if there was anything behind that prison door that the committee should know about and he said no,” Gerzofsky said.
The Senate chairman of the committee that has oversight of corrections said there will be a transition team of Long Creek Youth Development Center Rodney Bouffard and Department of Corrections official Ralph Nichols who will run the prison until a new warden is selected.
Ponte was already scheduled to meet with the committee Wednesday for various issues but Gerzofsky said Friday afternoon that he was trying to arrange for the commissioner to meet with committee members Monday for further talks about the prison situation. He acknowledged that management issues are the purview of the commissioner.
Jim Mackie, the union representative for employees at the Maine State Prison and the Bolduc Correctional Center in Warren, said Thursday that he has heard from staff at the prison that Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte walked into her office Thursday morning and informed her she was fired.
According to the state’s website, the Maine State Prison has a capacity of 916 inmates and a staff of 410. The prison population was 850 in November, according to Bangor Daily News archives. The prison, including the Bolduc facility, had a 2012-2013 budget of $41.3 million.
Barnhart, who was hired in 2009, was paid $100,523 in 2011, according to MaineOpenGov.org website.