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Voices from the Other Side.

Voices from the Other Side

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Isaac
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A 32-member task force is soliciting feedback in its effort to recommend changes, which could include shutting down state’s only youth prison, to how Maine treats youthful offenders.

Long Creek Youth Development Center, in a Nov. 16, 2016 file photo.

Long Creek Youth Development Center, in a Nov. 16, 2016 file photo. Portland Press Herald photo by Derek Davis

AUGUSTA — With no family at home, Brodie Dunton was an alcoholic by the time he was 14 years old and spent his teenage years in and out of minor trouble with the law.

He also found himself in and out various youth treatment programs, and then committed to Long Creek Youth Development Center on a misdemeanor theft charge.

“I ended up doing 26 months at Long Creek,” Dunton told a crowd Thursday at a Maine Juvenile Justice Task Force forum in Augusta. “They had me sitting there, doing nothing. I sat there until discharge.”

He was among a group of young adults at the forum who also spoke about their time incarcerated as children at Long Creek. The event also included representatives of the Maine Department of Corrections, police officers, legislators and other state and local government officials.

Colin O’Neill, associate commissioner of juvenile services at the Department of Corrections, who has also overseen operations at Long Creek, responded to Dunton that to be fair, it should be noted he would have gone home almost immediately, but he had no home. Nor, apparently, was there any other place for Dunton to go.

After the forum ended and the roughly 60 attendees were making their way out of Augusta City Center, Dunton summed up what attendees seemed to agree was a key problem with the juvenile justice system: “Why didn’t he have a place for me to go? That’s the thing.”

The forum was the third one in the state, with another set for next month in Portland, according to Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based juvenile justice policy group hired by state corrections officials to evaluate Maine’s juvenile justice system.

The goal: Delivering recommendations that could lead to reform and assist a 32-member task force of legislators, state officials, members of law enforcement and advocates charged with recommending reforms in how Maine treats youthful offenders.

The look at problems of the Maine juvenile justice system and ways to improve it includes considering closing or repurposing Long Creek Youth Development Center, the state’s only youth prison.

Advocates said imprisoning youth does not work and is often harmful to the juveniles it claims to help, while the money, about $15 million a year, spent at Long Creek would be better spent on community-based programs for youths.

Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey warned that Maine needs somewhere to place youths who commit violent crimes to ensure the public’s safety.

“We know locking up juveniles is not the best for them, but is sometimes necessary,” Massey said. “I have some concerns if we’re going to close Long Creek. For those juveniles who are violent, we need a facility that has the security levels to prevent them from walking away and exposing the community to violence.”

Soler said he does not necessarily see Maine doing away with a secure holding facility for youth. He said that if more could be diverted to community-based programs — and the many youth at Long Creek who need mental health treatment, which the facility is not equipped to provide, are placed in treatment programs — Maine would have no need for a facility as large as Long Creek. In the past, the facility has had more than 300 youths in residence.

“If you could take the number (at Long Creek) down to who really needs to be confined, you’d have maybe 20, and it could be a much smaller facility,” Soler said. “Nobody is talking about opening the doors and letting the kids walk out.”

O’Neill said Long Creek now has about 55 youths, 35 of whom were sent there by judges after they committed crimes and 20 who are incarcerated temporarily because they stand accused of criminal behavior and await court proceedings.

He said Long Creek’s field staff, the equivalent of probation officers for youths, process about 2,000 referrals a year, and now oversee between 300 and 350 youths on probation.

O’Neill and Randall Liberty, commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, said Maine officials have worked to divert an increasing number of youth from entering the correctional system.

O’Neill said about a third of the youth who end up at Long Creek are high-risk offenders accused or convicted of serious crimes, a third are lower-risk offenders involved in lesser crimes and a third are there due to behavioral or mental health issues.

Mike Prue, 28, of Biddeford, said there were more than 200 youths at Long Creek when he was there as a juvenile. In his experience, he said, youths sent there to be rehabilitated so they could become successful adults often experienced the opposite result.

“The way it stands is people (sent to Long Creek) find themselves worse off coming out than when they went in,” Prue said. “You treat them like they’re in adult prisons when they walk in, in shackles.

“As a kid that tried to ask for help, if I made the smallest mistake, they’d slap me back in there. And when you get out, where do you go? So they go back to the same lifestyle. You’re pretty much setting them up to fail.”

Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, a co-chair of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said forming the task force and working to reform the juvenile justice system shows state officials are committed to improvements.

“We know the data shows locking kids up is not good for anyone,” she said.

Soler and State Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, a co-chairman of the task force with Liberty and Jill Ward from the Maine Center for Juvenile Policy and Law, said they hope to propose reforms that will be considered by the next state Legislature.

A survey, asking people about their experiences in the juvenile justice system, will be part of what they consider in making recommendations, and is available at www.mainejjtaskforce.org.

Al Cleveland, 22, of Portland, is campaign coordinator for Maine Youth Justice, a nonpartisan group which advocates for ending youth incarceration in Maine. He said the group issued a report with eight recommendations for reforms to Maine’s juvenile justice system, including:

• Investing in communities and reimagining the role of police.

• Investing in credible messengers.

• Shutting down what they call the school-to-prison pipeline.

• Funding programs that divert youth from arrest, prosecution and incarceration.

• Creating a new model for small, community-based residential programs.

• Taking the responsibility for youth justice and community reinvestment out of the Maine Department of Corrections.

• Repurposing Long Creek.

Adan Abdikadir, 20, of Lewiston, who attended the forum with others from Maine Youth Justice, said many of the problems the forum sought to address result from youths not having positive role models in their lives.

“We need to worry about what’s happening in these kids’ homes, not having enough people to look up to,” he said, likening youths to flowers that need help to grow.

“We’re always questioning, ‘What’s wrong with this kid?’ Maybe it’s how they’re being flowered. Maybe the water is dirty, the community is dirty. It’s not just the flower itself. For it to pop, you need to put some water in.”

For information on hot topics in incarcerations and recovery, please visit Voices from the Other Side.

Voices from the Other Side

Thank you!

Isaac host/ producer

Kenneth Morang told police he fell asleep at the wheel after an overtime shift at the Cumberland County Jail when his pickup truck slammed into the back of an SUV, killing a 9-year-old girl.

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A former Cumberland County corrections officer who told police he fell asleep at the wheel before a crash in July that killed a 9-year-old girl is facing a manslaughter charge.

Kenneth Morang, 62, was indicted this month by a Cumberland County grand jury in connection to the July 21 crash on Route 25 in Gorham. Morang worked for 13 years as a corrections officer, but resigned earlier this month because of injuries he suffered in the crash, which prevented him from returning to work, according to the Sheriff’s office.

Raelynn Bell, of Cumberland, was in the third row of her father’s Honda SUV when Morang’s truck slammed into the back of the vehicle, which was stopped in the road to make a left-hand turn. The family was returning from seeing “The Lion King” movie.

Bell suffered a serious brain injury and was flown by LifeFlight to Maine Medical Center, but died two days after the crash. Other family members suffered serious injuries but survived.

The prosecution of Morang will be handled by the York County District Attorney’s office because of Morang’s previous employment by Cumberland County, said York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan.

Phone numbers listed for Morang, of Standish, were not in service Thursday afternoon or did not permit incoming calls. He could not be reached for comment.

Bell’s family declined to comment, but their attorney, Walter F. McKee, issued a brief statement on their behalf via email.

“This has been an unspeakable tragedy for this family,” McKee said. “We were in touch with the District Attorney’s Office and were aware that the indictment was handed down. The indictment is small solace but of course none of this will bring Raelynn back.”

McKee said he has been retained by the family to represent Raelynn’s estate, but he is still researching whether the county bears any responsibility in Raelynn’s death. If McKee intends to file suit, he first must file a notice of claim with the county, a standard step whenever an individual intends to take legal action against a municipality.

When asked if he has filed suit against Morang personally, McKee offered a brief reply: “Not yet,” he said.

Morang had worked a string of long days and overtime shifts immediately before the crash. Such extended, often voluntary overtime shifts are now part of  negotiations between the correction officers’ union and county management, Sheriff Kevin Joyce said in a statement Thursday.

Joyce said he hopes to strike a balance between needing to fill vacant correction officer shifts while not unnecessarily limiting the ability of a corrections officer to work desired overtime shifts.

“There is no documented guidance on the optimum number of hours that an employee should/shouldn’t work overtime,” Joyce said in the statement. “Research indicates that there is no federal or state law that governs the maximum hours of overtime an employee should work for their safety or anyone else’s safety.”

The week of the crash, Morang worked a total of 88 hours at the jail, and he had done consecutive double-shifts during the two days before the crash, according to information released by Joyce’s office. Morang’s last shift began at 11 p.m. Saturday and ended at 2:27 p.m. Sunday, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said previously. The crash occurred about 2:53 p.m., police said. All of those shifts that week were voluntary.

Morang, who has been a correctional office for at least seven years, earns $20.99 per hour, or a gross salary of $43,659. Most full-time workers who clock 40 hours per week log about 2,000 paid hours per year, depending on vacation and time off.

In 2018, however, Morang worked 2,654.5 hours of overtime worth an additional $82,750, and was on track to continue working a high number of overtime hours this year. Through July 13 of 2019, Morang worked 1,671.38 overtime hours, according to information released by the sheriff’s office on Tuesday.

It is relatively common for corrections officers to work multiple extra shifts in one week at the Cumberland County Jail. In the five-week period before the crash, 15 to 17 employees each week worked more than three extra shifts, county records show.

Joyce said he planned to have an expert make a presentation to employees and union representatives to discuss the dangers of sleep deprivation.

“Officer Morang made this trip to and from work on many occasions without incident, however, unfortunately during the trip in question a 9-year-old girl lost her life,” Joyce wrote in the statement released Thursday. “We are committed to doing what we can to meet the needs of the public, needs of the employee and the needs of the organization in a manner that doesn’t endanger others. Again, we send our deepest condolences to the Bell family.”

Currently, there is no mechanism or contractual language that limits the number of hours a corrections officer may work in a given time period. Employees at the jail are expected to self-regulate.

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The administrator of the Cumberland County Jail said overtime and double shifts are typically required of corrections officers twice a week as the jail faces a staffing shortage.

The case of a corrections officer who police said had just come off a 16-hour shift at the jail before causing a crash in Gorham that killed a 9-year-old girl, is raising questions about the work load for officers.

Police said Kenneth Morang, 61, admitted that he fell asleep before the July 2019 crash on Route 25.

Morang often volunteered to work 90 hours a week to make more money and to help fill a large staffing shortage at the Cumberland County Jail.

Of the 128 budgeted positions at the Cumberland County Jail, 27 are unfilled. That is a 16 percent vacancy rate.

Staffing shortages are common for jails in prisons across Maine. The Penobscot County Jail in Bangor has a 13 percent job vacancy rate, and the six state prisons are down 40 officers.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty said the jobs are hard to fill. They are dangerous, stressful jobs that pay about $40,000 per year before overtime.

Corrections officers serve an average of three years before moving on to law enforcement jobs or other careers.

Because of the persistent staffing shortages, overtime for officers is often forced.

On a recent Tuesday morning, a group of Maine State Prison inmates, along with prison administrators, corrections officers and state legislators, gathered around tables in the facility’s visitation room.

An agenda was passed out, an inmate set up a laptop to take minutes of the meeting, then a strangely democratic process got underway.

“All right, welcome everyone. Today we’ve got a pretty full agenda and a pretty tight time frame,” Warden Matthew Magnusson said as the group sat down to discuss matters ranging from pod updates to reentry planning initiatives.

It was the monthly meeting of the Prisoner Advisory Council, a group established earlier this year to bring all levels of the prison population and administration together to talk about policies, problems and potential solutions.

The council is the first of its kind in the Maine Department of Corrections system, according to Magnusson, and it’s already increasing communication, building relationships and working toward changing the system.

These prison meetings are where Rep. Bill Plucker, I-Warren, and Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, initially learned about the negative impacts a critical shortage of corrections officers is having on both staff and inmates.

As a result, the lawmakers submitted an emergency bill aiming to increase the compensation for corrections officers in Maine in order to help with staff recruitment. The Legislative Council approved the emergency bill request last month, and the bill could get a public hearing before the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee early next year on its way to becoming law.

“What’s going on right here in this room is special. Where you have upper-level administration all the way down to residents of different units participating in a discussion that includes outside representatives,” said Leo, the inmate taking the meeting minutes. “We’re able to have real discussions about the issues that are going on in this prison … to put [those issues] on the table and have them be heard by people who can enact change.”

The Bangor Daily News was invited to the October Prison Council Advisory meeting, but is not using the full names of the inmates in order to prevent further trauma from being inflicted on their victims.

‘It’s Not Us Versus Them’

The council is composed of 15 inmates representing various groups that exist within the prison such as veterans, people of color, those in recovery, prisoners from religious backgrounds and those who are serving long sentences.

Prison administration officials used to meet separately with these groups but felt that bringing representatives from each to one table would have a better result.

“Together, along with staff, we’re trying to solve a lot of these underlying issues at the prison. What we’ve found is through a restorative justice circle, we are kind of working toward one goal,” Magnusson said.

Aside from prison administration, staff and inmates, and representatives from outside groups, such as the Maine Prisoner Reentry Network, attend the meetings, bring in their expertise and find areas for collaboration.

Topics that dominated the recent meeting included preparing inmates for reentry into the community as well as breaking down the stigma that comes with being incarcerated. A recent debate that played out in nearby Rockland over the placement of a reentry house in a residential neighborhood was referenced as one of the hurdles inmates face upon release.

“We want to convey to communities that people are trying to better themselves with the programs offered [in prison]. We think it’s important to let society know that there are people in here who made mistakes. They did their punishment now it’s time for them to put their life in order,” said Foster, president of the prison’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter.

Whether it’s a large societal issue such as reentry, or more day-to-day issues — such as prison programming — the meetings serve as a communication conduit.

Jeff, an inmate working with the Maine Prisoner Reentry Network to prepare inmates for release, said the meetings help share information not just between inmates and administration, but to others as well.

“These meetings create a conversation afterwards among ourselves. ‘Why don’t we work on this together, or do this together, to get this outcome,’” he said. “This meeting is groundbreaking. It throws the information out to both sides, to the administration and the inmate population, to help us understand how we can improve the culture of the prison.”

In her 15 years visiting the prison through her involvement with the NAACP, Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said the Prisoner Advisory Council meetings are one of the best things she has seen happen there.

“To have this combination of input around the table and to feel perfectly empowered to add your voice to the discussion has been incredibly beneficial. It’s beneficial because there is some acknowledgement that the diversity of input will make the best result,” Talbot Ross said. “It’s not an us versus them. It’s ‘What are we going to do to move [the Department of Corrections] forward?’”

I know that I complain a lot about life here at MCC and the fact of the matter is there is much to complain about. It does not take long for a host of issues to come flooding to the fore of my mind including things such as the piss-poor medical care and staff. The constant jerking of the inmate chain by CO’s for their humor comes to mind as well. The thing is this: I really don’t give a rats-ass myself about much that goes on around here.

It may come as a surprise that I am not a complainer by nature; I am not. What I have here, what I do here is bring the voice of the inmates (and others; including dirty laundry) to a blogging audience and presence. I am for good and bad, really nothing more than an ear. I listen to what is being said about campus. I listen to the inmates bitch and moan. I listen to the CO’s piss and moan. I listen to everything I can possibly listen to then turn in into a short blog; hopefullly with a witty and cutting edge.

So here comes one little piece of listening; with comment of course!

The other day at chow; I overheard a few guys bitching about the prospect that they may get stripped searched everytime when leaving an industry job (in this case the wood shop) including strip searches before lunches. To say these men were less than happy campers is an understatement. The thing is: these men were inclined to bitch as opposed to act. One thing that is perfectly clear  to me is how much un-tapped power inmates have over the system. Too power to affect change here at MCC by the inmates is never used. It is not used because the Inmates (as I see it)are too god-damned busy using all their energy and resources eating their own. I am not a career criminal and am not fully aware of all the rules of “inmatehood;” but it seems to me that if the inmates turned their focus on the system rather than each other change would come howbeit slowly. Inmates here, and I suspect across our nation are so worried about the skinner or ripper, or the guy who cuts in line at chow; the guy who got the bigger piece; the guy who does’t look right; the guy who doesn’t shower everyday, they have no energy left or desire left to affect change. They would rather piss and moan just as I am doing now.

But, I have an idea though:

I think if the inmates stood up and said we don’t want to be stripped search 2 or 3 times a day and walked off the job… Done…! FINISHED…! Things would change! If all the inmates walked out of all the industries jobs that cash cow would dry up over night. If all the inmates supported those in the industries by walking away from their jobs in the kitchen or pods things would change even if the inmates went hungry for a few days… I the fore mentioned, men walked away from the work crews? What if they walked away from the school syste? What if they just said in one big 600-700 man voice; “We are as mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore?” What if they said this across the coreec tions nation?

In my opinion inmates need a loose-knit trade union, just like the CO’s and other have. I think they need men chosen from amongst themselves to represent them, just like the CO’ and others have. The inmates have the numbers, they could hve the voice too if they wanted it… They just have to stop eating their own long enough to see if they wanted to, change could come to MCC and to like institutions across the nation.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear, I am not advocating this position amongst the inmates (but I will write about it;) the inmates need to wake up and see this on their own…

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The medical treatment program addresses addiction, provides inmates resources after their release

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Image by Arline Lawless, Inmate at the Maine Correctional Center

WINDHAM, Maine — A pilot program offered by the Maine Department of Corrections has been successful thus far in rehabilitating inmates with an opioid use disorder.

Under the MDOC’s Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) program, inmates with an opioid use disorder that are 90 days from their release date have the opportunity to choose a medication that will help them get off the drugs.

Officials are looking at expanding a pilot program offered by the Maine Department of Corrections to inmates living with an opioid use disorder. (Photo/MDOC)
Officials are looking at expanding a pilot program offered by the Maine Department of Corrections to inmates living with an opioid use disorder. (Photo/MDOC)

WGME reports that since the implementation of the MAT program in May, 60 inmates have enrolled and 40 have graduated. MDOC officials said 100% of the inmates who have graduated from the MAT program are actively participating in drug treatment after their release.

“This is no different that treating a diabetic or a patient with a chronic illness that needs treatment,” Maine DOC Deputy Commissioner Ryan Thornell told WGME. “There’s no reason we should not provide a treatment that we know, evidence tells us, works.”

Right now, the pilot costs $35,000 a month to run at four out of the DOC’s six facilities, according to WGME. Thornell is hopeful that the program will be expanded to two more state facilities by 2020.

“That’s going to take several million dollars to expand like that but this is a priority for the state of Maine,” Thronell told WGME. “I think we’re going to have large support to make that expansion when the time is right.”

There are three things I find so sad here at Maine Correctional Center (M.C.C.) I thought I would share them with with you. First, I find it so sad when an inmate has resolved himself to wait till his Release to receive proper medical care! That in my mind is simply tragic. I over heard some inmate talking about some liver issue that the medical staff was saying: Booze, Booze, Booze was the cause (when he first arrived:) testing six months later same issue, but no Booze to blame it on; the inmate try’s to get medical to give meds without Tylenol (he takes 90,000mg a month.) At his 1 year health review (at 17 months.) The doctor asked the inmate (why aren’t you on straight blah, blah,” The inmate complains about his repeated attempts to get things changed. He tells the doctor he’ll just wait till he gets out to get things corrected (his outside doctors did not give him meds with Tylenol.) The inmate has Two years to serve, he leaves the room the doctor does not change his meds. SO SAD…..

Secondly, the telephone… I see the telephone as the greatest source of conflict, stress, and strife to see inmates pleading w/ spouses, way ward girl friend is awful… Inmates so want to have some kind of normalcy in controlling events outside the walls. They can’t, and it tears them up… SO SAD… To bad they did not have privacy. They must exposed their frustrations to the world (Dorm) SO SAD…

Lastly, it is so sad for me to see the “Tough Guys,” “The guys who do time; the muscle bound career criminals who prey on the weak & elderly around the dorms hanging out day in and day out at the cages, swinging of CO’s nuts. Yep, it seems the toughest, the biggest, baddest boys are the real  junior CO’s…. SO SAD…..

Bob Wire

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Political Prisoners

Welcome to the blog from inmates of Maine's jails and prisons.

In collaboration with the Holistic Recovery Project, the Political Prisoners Blog provides a prisoner's view into what's happening at Maine's correctional facilities.

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