PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Department of Corrections has hired an outside expert to review the suicide prevention policy at its youth prison after a teenage detainee killed himself in the facility last year.
The department previously said that “state and federal experts” would be going over its policy after Charles Maisie Knowles, a 16-year-old transgender boy, hanged himself at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland last October.
But the department recently decided that it also needs a third-party, “with no ties to the facility or state of Maine,” to examine what happened at Long Creek, according to Jan. 21 document, which requested that the competitive bidding process be waived because of the “immediate need” to conduct the review.
“The Department of Corrections has an urgent need to address suicide prevention in the state’s juvenile facility,” states the waiver, signed by Department of Corrections Associate Commissioner Colin O’Neill. “An unfortunate event occurring at Long Creek has resulted in the immediate need to assess the [facility’s] physical plant, staff, and youth to address and correct current operational processes, policies, and practices.”
To conduct this review, the department hired Lindsay Hayes of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, a Massachusetts group focused on criminal justice reform. Hayes has reviewed thousands of inmate suicides over his decades-long career and is charging the state $9,764.56, according to the waiver.
Hayes said that he will be at Long Creek from Wednesday to Friday this week. He declined to discuss specifically what he will be assessing, but said that his examinations generally include interviews with inmates and staff and reviews of policy, training procedure, medical records and communications around a suicide.
Hayes would not say if he would be looking into whether Knowles’ status as pre-trial detainee had a role in his suicide. Knowles’ mother has claimed that her son’s suicide was preventable and that he was not receiving all the required mental health services because he was not to a committed resident. The Department of Corrections has contested this claim.
The prison’s openness to an third-party scrutinizing what happened to Knowles shows it is committed to transparency and thoroughness, Hayes said. He added that his hiring does not mean earlier investigations found any wrongdoing.
Likewise, Joseph Jackson of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition took it as encouraging that the prison is letting an outsider in, but said it will matter little if the Hayes’ findings never see public light.
“It’s a good thing that there’s an outside, independent party doing it,” said Jackson of the review. “But if the public don’t get to see the findings what’s the point of it?”
Hayes said his report would likely be completed within five weeks of his finishing the review at Long Creek on Friday. He did not know whether the findings would be made public.
The Department of Corrections and Long Creek did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
BDN reporter Danielle McLean contributed to this report.