Records show high number of incidents, overtime at state prison preceded management change

Posted Feb. 17, 2013, at 3:19 p.m.
Patricia Barnhart
Patricia Barnhart

WARREN, Maine — The number of fights and assaults and the amount of weapons and drugs found within the maximum-security Maine State Prison had been above the average sought by the commissioner prior to his decision to remove Warden Patricia Barnhart from her job last month.

When the Maine Department of Corrections acknowledged earlier this month its decision in January to make a change in management at the prison, the reasons cited were based on management problems, including the number of incident reports at the facility and the amount of overtime incurred.

Barnhart was hired in the fall of 2009. Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte was appointed in February 2011.

One of Ponte’s directives was for the corrections facilities to maintain statistics on incidents that occur within their facilities. The statistics maintained include fights, assaults by inmates against other inmates, assaults against staff, suicide, murder, sexual contact between inmates, seizure of contraband such as drugs, weapons and tobacco, the number of disciplinary actions taken against prisoners and the number of grievances filed.

Those reports, to be compiled weekly, were sent on to the Corrections Department.

Associate Commissioner Jody Breton said that if the number of incidents was above average for the facilities, the warden and staff were to provide an explanation and a plan to correct whatever is behind the higher than normal number of incidents.

For instance, she said, the statistics should indicate, if there are fights, whether they are due mainly to one inmate or to one area of the prison. One area found to host frequent fights was a long section of the prison leading to the chow hall called “the mile,” Breton noted. Staff was shifted to have more guards in that section.

A review of those incident reports by the Bangor Daily News shows that many of the incidents were occurring more frequently than average.

In January, there were 152 inmates disciplined for various infractions, above the average of 73. In December, there had been 119 disciplinary actions taken against inmates. In November, there were 84.

In December — Barnhart’s final full month on the job — there were six fights, seven assaults of inmate against inmate, two assaults against staff, 10 cases of inmates hurting themselves, 13 positive tests for banned substances in inmates and six weapons seized. These were all well above average.

The Maine State Prison has a capacity to serve 916 inmates with a staff of 410, according to the department’s website.

In terms of overtime at the prison, the amount has varied dramatically over the past two years. The most overtime spent for a two-week payroll period at the Maine State Prison was in November 2010 when $94,530 was spent for 3,749 hours, according to records provided by the department to the BDN.

The trend was for decreased overtime with a low of $4,523 for one payroll period with 164 hours in January 2012. From mid-October 2011 through August 2012, there were no pay periods in which overtime costs at the prison reached $30,000.

The costs then trended upward, reaching a high of $66,541 in October. The costs then averaged about $40,000 through mid-January.

In the most recent pay period provided — ending Feb. 6 — overtime costs had dropped to $23,108.

A lawsuit filed last month by a former deputy warden at the prison, James O’Farrell, claimed that he had repeatedly voiced concern about safety at the prison for staff, visitors and inmates because of reduced staffing. He claims his job was eliminated because he had argued against the commissioner’s directive to reduce overtime to the point where there was insufficient staff.

The state has declined to comment on O’Farrell’s lawsuit.

Barnhart’s last day working at the prison was Jan. 10, although she officially remains as warden through Feb. 28. She then will become policy development coordinator for the corrections department.

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