Maine legislative panel removes Windham ‘shoot-to-kill’ component from prison reform bill

A prisoner is brought down the &quotrunway" into one of the buildings on the sprawling complex at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham in this 2013 photo.
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal
A prisoner is brought down the "runway" into one of the buildings on the sprawling complex at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham in this 2013 photo.
Posted March 03, 2014, at 1:59 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A proposal that would have allowed the use of deadly force against any prisoners attempting an escape from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham was stripped from a bill Monday that makes other changes to the state’s Department of Corrections.

In a 12-1 vote, the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee agreed to move the bill forward without the provision. Only Rep. Ricky Long, R-Sherman, opposed doing so.

The deadly-force provision was requested by the department and would have given MCC guards the same guidelines as those working at the high-security Maine State Prison in Warren.

Lawmakers supporting the proposal said it made sense as increasing numbers of dangerous inmates were serving time at the Windham facility. Department of Corrections officials noted that the Windham facility also had a high-security unit but lawmakers opposing the measure, including some former law enforcement officers, said they didn’t believe the change was warranted.

State Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, a former state trooper, said there wasn’t a history of escape in Maine that warranted such a change.

“There was no trend ever shown … no exodus (of prisoners),” said Marks.

He and other committee members, including the House chairman, state Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, said they preferred the model for deadly force to be one that depends on an imminent danger to the officer or other people.

Guards at MCC can currently use deadly force under those circumstances. But at the Maine State Prison, guards can shoot-to-kill an inmate in the act of escape, even if they aren’t posing an imminent threat.

Dion said nobody on the committee wanted to see a prisoner or anybody, for that matter, shot and that whenever deadly force is applied, there are deep consequences even when the officer is found to be justified in his actions.

“There’s never a clean shoot out there,” Dion said.

Having a single model for when to use deadly force was challenging enough for law enforcement officers in the state, and to give two models to corrections officers seemed extraordinary. Dion urged DOC officials to work with the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to develop protocols.

Those who originally supported the change, including state Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, said they would vote for the change to preserve the remainder of the bill.

Plummer said he never advocated shooting prisoners, although that’s how some people perceived his support of the change.

“Never did I state or did the Department of Corrections say they wanted to shoot-to-kill anyone,” Plummer said.

He did say he believed the policy change would be a greater deterrent. He also noted the increasing numbers of higher security prisoners at the MCC.

“I’d rather only have [inmates] who aren’t a danger of escape,” Plummer said. “Since that is currently not the case, if we are going to have the same prisoners as the Maine State Prison, we ought to have the same rules.”

The other thing the bill does is change the title of the chief administrative officer at MCC from superintendent to warden.

The bill next goes to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

 

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