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AUGUSTA — Tonia Kigas Porter was freed from state custody Friday for the first time in almost 20 years.

The 49-year-old woman had been committed to the commissioner of the Department of Health & Human Services after being found not criminally responsible for murder for starving her 5-year-old daughter to death in 1993 in Bangor.

A judge in Kennebec County Superior Court ordered Porter discharged after the state, her psychiatrist and the State Forensic Service said they all supported it for Porter, who most recently was diagnosed and treated for cancer.

“She has managed those losses and difficulties with great dignity,” said Ann LeBlanc, director of the State Forensic Service.

Porter has been living in Augusta and doing volunteer work there for years and getting support from people in the community.

Justice Donald Marden asked LeBlanc what Porter’s reaction would be to seeing her photo in the newspaper.

“She’s learned one day your picture shows up on the front page and two days later, people forget about it,” LeBlanc said.

Marden said statements by those testifying on Friday convinced him that Porter has worked hard to recover.

“There’s no question Ms. Porter bears a heavy burden,” Marden said.

J. Mitchell Flick, Porter’s attorney, told the judge Porter is particularly conscientious about taking her medication and “extremely likely to succeed.”

Assistant Attorney General Laura Yustak Smith said that once Porter recovered from her severe psychosis, she was distressed and remorseful about what she had done.

“I think it’s a good thing when a person recognizes how serious it was and has the remorse because that’s the beginning of the recovery and can give the public some comfort that the person knows this was a bad thing,” Yustak Smith said.

Porter was committed to state custody in 1995.

Yustak Smith said she contacted family members of the victim prior to the hearing to discuss Porter’s potential discharge, and learned one was deceased and the other did not want to attend the hearing.

Porter hugged treatment providers and others from Riverview Psychiatric Center and from the hospital’s Assertive Community Treatment Team.

She is expected to continue with community-based treatment.

During a separate hearing in the same court Friday, Kirk T. Lambert also was discharged from the custody of the commissioner.

Lambert, 33, had been committed to state custody in 2000, following a verdict of not criminally responsible for robbery in an incident in which his lawyer said he wheeled a TV out of Walmart.

LeBlanc testified that Lambert was admitted to Riverview “and he stabilized quite quickly on medications.” She also said he has been dealing with an ongoing substance abuse issue.

Lambert has moved several times between the state hospital and the community, and several witnesses said he appeared overly dependent on Riverview and it was time for him to move on now that his mental illness is being treated and there has been no evidence of psychosis.

Instead of readmitting him recently, LeBlanc said, the hospital offered him a list of homeless shelters.

LeBlanc described Lambert, whose head is shaved, as “a good hair cutter,” and a person who is creative and makes beautiful quilts.

She said it appeared unlikely he would injure himself or others and that he plans to move to northern Maine where his father is a registered Maine Guide.

“He has been clean and sober for six months and quite committed to staying clean and sober,” she said.

LeBlanc said Lambert “was compassionate to other people with major mental illness who couldn’t help themselves.”

In March 2013, Lambert was a patient at Riverview when he was credited with rescuing a mental health worker there who was under attack by another patient.

The state, through Assistant District Attorney David Spencer, raised no objection to Lambert’s release.

“You are entitled to be discharged and have worked hard to bring yourself to this position,” Marden told Lambert. “You have some issues that you’re really going to have to stay on top of if you’re going to stay out of trouble.”

Marden warned him that people who don’t address substance issues “become very involved in the criminal justice system. In the final analysis, what happens is entirely up to you.”

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University of New England students have created a program for jail staff and correction officers to help them deal with stress and other wellness issues
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PORTLAND, Maine — Students at the University of New England are spending time at the Cumberland County Jail this week.

The students have created a program for jail staff and correction officers to help them deal with several issues. The biggest one…stress.

They’re doing it not only for class credit, but because they say it’s the right the thing to do.

All week UNE students, studying to be nurses, occupational therapists and trainers, will help the staff with nutrition, exercise and stress management.

In the stress management session there were all kind of sensory activities like making slime and stress balls, by stuffing flour into a balloon.

It’s a  tool that will come in handy for corrections officer Chelsea Moore.

“There’s a lot of stress looking over your shoulder. There’s a lot of not knowing what’s going to happen at any given second. That’s probably the most tiring part of it” Moore says.

This is not the first time UNE students have been in the jail. They were there last year working with inmates, helping them with all kinds of wellness issues.

While there, they noticed the jail staff and correction officers could use some of the same services.

Kelly Pitre, who is studying occupational therapy at UNE, and will graduate next month, is spearheading this program, which is all volunteer.

“I feel like it’s our turn to take care of them” Pitre says. “I’m passionate about it, it’s a great way to put my skills to the test and help implement stress, well being, health and wellness.”

Libby Alvin, who is set to graduate from UNE’s nursing program next month says while she is busy with her school work, she looks forward to getting out in the community.

“It brings you back to why you’re doing school and why you’re working your butt off everyday in the library, to work with people and help make things better.”

A kind gesture that’s greatly appreciated.

“It’s nice to know somebody thought of us. There’s all this work, put into a whole week of them coming in and spending time with all shifts” says Moore.

Last year Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce awarded UNE students a Volunteer Appreciation Award for their work with inmates.

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Joel was released on April 10th, 2019.  

If you wish to contact him, let us know.

On July 9, 1806, Augusta resident Capt. James Purrington murdered his wife Elizabeth (“Betsey”) and six of his Eight children and then took his own life.  The next day a large public funeral was held, during which the bodies of the slain family members were laid to rest in what was apparently an unmarked grave in the then Burnt Hill (now Mt. Vernon) cemetery. Capt. Purrington was buried along with the murder weapons (an axe and a razor) in the highway at the southeast corner of the cemetery.

Recently, the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission located the site of the family grave and placed a marker at the location, completing the work of honoring the victims of this horrid act of family violence.

 


Family Members

Spouse: 

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Elizabeth Clifford Purrington, (?–1806)
Children:

Polly Purrington, (17871806)

Martha Purrington, (17911806)

Benjamin Purrington, (17941806)

Anna Purrington, (17961806)

Nathaniel Purrington, (17981806)

Nathan Purrington, (18001806)

Louisa Purrington, (18041806)

 

How’s Circle? It’s always good to hear from y’all.

These last couple of months have been hard. I lost everything that I had worked for in one hour. I’m starting over at the bottom It’s been a crazy couple months. The Warden came down to see me. He told me that if I didn’t behave I was getting in a lot of trouble. They (I.P.S.) had been fucking with me for 2+ years, with no write-ups or charges. I was removed from the L.T.R. Board, placed in a disciplinary pod. I can’t go to Rec. It’s crazy. They kept treating me like I was acting up, so I started acting up. The Warden noticed and we had a hard talk. Now I’m starting from the bottom, but I’m in a way better place mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I had lost my way but I’m better now.

I want y’all to be better, because I’m doing better.

As I am,

Love,

Your brother, Prince.

danny2

Write to Danny via:

Maine State Prison – Daniel Fortune – MDOC #86753

807 Cushing Road – Warren, Maine 04864-4600

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Write to Arline via:

Maine Correctional Center – Arline Lawless – MDOC #60057

17 Mallison Falls Road – Windham, Maine o4062

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

(We let Kenny know that we would.)

McDonald Plea

Write to Kenny Via:

Maine State Prison – Kenneth McDonald – MDOC #114427

807 Cushing Road – Warren, Maine 04864-4600

George W. Bush DUI Arrest Record

Bush Drunk Driving Summary

This is the 1976 Maine police document recording the arrest of George W. Bushfor driving under the influence of alcohol.

Bush, who was 30 at the time, was popped over the Labor Day weekend near his family’s Kennebunkport summer home. Bush pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor DUI charge, paid a $150 fine, and had his driving privileges briefly revoked in the state of Maine.

The arrest record card was released November 2 by Kennebunkport police. The Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles also released this summary of Bush’s DUI conviction. (2 pages)

Not to be outdone, Dick Cheney has two drunk driving busts on his record.

Yes, we’ve all got questions about George W. Bush’s 1976 drunk driving arrest. But the Bush campaign isn’t really answering them (at least not yet), while the silence of the Gore campaign is deafening. So we’ve decided to cut through the spin and go behind the scenes for a few technical pointers on Maine driving laws. Here is everything you ever wanted to know about drunk driving arrests (or have at least wondered about in the past 24 hours).

What’s the difference between a DWI, a DUI and an OUI?

There’s absolutely no difference. Maine happens to use the term “Operating Under the Influence,” or OUI, but other states use DUI or DWI. They all mean the same thing.

Is drunk driving a felony or misdemeanor in Maine?

These days, your fourth OUI conviction in a 10-year period is considered a felony. Back in 1976, drunk driving was considered a misdemeanor into infinity — unless there was an accident, which could elevate the charge.

What was the penalty for an OUI arrest in 1976?

George W. Bush paid a $150 fine and his license was suspended for 30 days. Because Bush carried an out-of-state driver’s license (his address was recorded as Midland, Tex.), the suspension carried weight only in Maine. In other words, Bush could have had someone drive him to the state line, hop in the driver’s seat and tool off (legally) into the sunset.

These days, the penalties are stiffer, and most states adhere to an agreement providing reciprocity: A license suspension in Maine, for example, would carry over into Texas.

Has the legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) changed since 1976?

In 1976, when Bush was arrested, the legal limit had just been lowered from .15 to .10. Bush’s BAC reportedly measured .10.

Today’s law puts the limit at .08. If you’re arrested and have a BAC between .08 and .15, you’re issued a standard DUI charge. If your BAC goes above .15, you’re stuck with mandatory jail time.

Can a drunk driving arrest be expunged from your record?

Back in ’76, OUI charges were removed from the driver’s record six years after the offense occurred.

Within the first 10 years after the arrest, a driver’s record shows a drunk driving conviction, with various details. After 10 years, a record will only show a past violation, without details. A casual observer wouldn’t be able to pick out a drunk driving conviction by glancing over a 24-year-old arrest record. You have to know what you’re looking for.

Thanks to State Trooper Lt. Theodore Short of York County, Maine (where Kennebunkport is located).

(How many times was he detained for drinking and driving before they were finally forced to arrest him?)

 



Man who killed two in 2015 rampage gets life for murders

Convicted murderer Anthony Lord walks into court at the Penobscot Judicial Center, where he was sentenced Monday to life imprisonment.

The Aroostook County man who killed two people and wounded three others in a two-county rampage over two days in July 2015 following the death of his infant son was sentenced Monday at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor to life in prison.

Anthony Lord, 37, of Crystal pleaded guilty last month to murdering Kyle Hewitt, 22, of Benedicta and Kevin Tozier, 58, of Lee; shooting and wounding Kim Irish, 57, Clayton McCarthy, 57, and Carlton Eddy, 52, all of Benedicta; and assaulting Kary Mayo, 40, of Silver Ridge with a hammer.

Lord blamed his rampage on the loss of his 6-month-old son Larry Earl Lord, who died on May 5, 2015 — 2 ½ months before the shootings. Lord, who was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, was frustrated by the fact that the investigation into his son’s death was taking so long, his lawyer told the court.

Superior Court Justice Ann Murray’s sentence was imposed after a 2 1/2 -hour hearing in which family members of the victims and the prosecution asked Lord be given life in prison.

Shelly Hewitt, 53, of Caribou told Murray that her son, Kyle, called her as he lay dying after Lord shot him nine times. She could hear her son “moan in agony” as he waited for the ambulance to arrive and the concern of emergency medical personnel once it got there, she said.

After the hearing, Hewitt said she was pleased with the life sentence but said that it did not bring her or her family closure.

“There is no closure ever in death of a son,” she said. “It just doesn’t happen. We just put one foot in front of the other every day.”

Defense attorneys David Bate of Bangor and Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth told Murray that their client should not spend the rest of his life behind bars because Lord was distraught over the death of his son. The boy died as a result of bleeding in his brain and a fractured skull, according to the autopsy report.

Jessee Mackin, 34, of Millinocket was charged in February 2016 with manslaughter in connection with the baby’s death. He is free on $25,000 cash bail. Mackin’s trial has been tentatively set for October.

“My son was murdered on May 5,” Lord told Murray. “I said at his funeral that there is no justice in any situation like this because no one can give back what’s been taken.”

Lord last month pleaded guilty to the bulk of the charges against him to avoid putting the families of the victims through a trial and the media attention it would bring, he said.

Bate read Lord’s handwritten apologies to the families of the men he killed and his other victims.

“I do know how it feels to have a son murdered,” Bate read. “I do hope you all will find peace. I know there is nothing I can do or say that will bring Kyle and Kevin back.”

Lord wiped tears from his eyes as Bate read a letter addressed to Hewitt’s young sons, Josh and Ben.

“I’m sorry I took your daddy away,” the attorney read.

Bate said that none of the events that took place on July 16 and 17, 2015, would have happened if his son hadn’t died a few months earlier. The attorney said a sentence in the 40-year range would be sufficient.

Lord blamed Mackin for his son’s death and wanted to kill him even though he did not go to Mackin’s home during the rampage, Assistant Attorney General Zainea told the judge. She recommended the judge sentence Lord to life in prison because there were multiple victims and because Hewitt’s murder was premeditated.

Lord faced between 25 years and life in prison on the murder convictions alone.

Maine does not have a death penalty but Superior Court Justices may impose life sentences for murder in specific circumstances. There is no possibility for early release.

In handing down the sentence, the judge rejected the premeditation argument but found that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors and that a life sentence was warranted due to the number of victims.

In addition to shooting five people and assaulting a sixth, Lord also set fire to a barn, stole firearms from a Silver Ridge Township home and beat a man there after tying him to a chair.

Most of the crime spree occurred with police trying to catch up with Lord as he raced through several Aroostook and Penobscot county towns on July 16 and 17, 2015.

Lord burned a barn in Benedicta late July 16, stole weapons and committed the assault in Silver Ridge before returning to the fire scene in Benedicta early the next day. There, he wounded Irish and killed Hewitt as Hewitt slept on a couch in Irish’s home. He shot Eddy as Eddy went to the barn to see the damage done by the fire, and left Benedicta.

Lord was then in a high-speed chase with police in Medway, with Lord

shooting at an officer. Lord evaded his pursuers and shot Tozier dead and wounded McCarthy in a woodlot in Lee while stealing a pulp truck — possibly a change in vehicles to confuse his pursuers.

Hours later, the manhunt ended when Lord surrendered at the home of an uncle in Houlton.

Lord has a long criminal history, including a conviction for an assault on a corrections officer at the Penobscot County Jail after his arrest for the rampage, and is a lifetime registrant of the Maine Sex Offender Registry.

Desiree Fischer, a med tech at the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn, wheels a medication cart down the hall on Wednesday. Between 30 and 61 percent of Maine?s 1,774 county jail inmates were prescribed at least one psychiatric medication, according to a survey conducted by the Bangor Daily News in August (Troy R. Bennett | BDN).

STATEWIDE (BDN) — A Maine judge makes the unprecedented decision to forcibly medicate a murder suspect with antipsychotic drugs. A violent, severely mentally ill patient is shipped to state prison after twice attacking staff members at Riverview Psychiatric Center.

Now Gov. Paul LePage, besieged with troubles at Riverview, has plans to send even more violent patients to prison, and proposes to spend millions to convert the prison facility in Windham to house mentally ill inmates.

These headlines point to a much deeper crisis in Maine. After a well-intentioned move decades ago to shift the care of the mentally ill away from psychiatric institutions, many Mainers can’t find adequate care in their communities. They still end up institutionalized but now it’s behind bars.

The ranks of inmates taking psychiatric medications in Maine’s jails and prisons today once would have filled the state’s largest hospitals for the mentally ill.

Between 30 and 61 percent of Maine’s 1,774 county jail inmates were prescribed at least one psychiatric medication, according to a survey conducted by the Bangor Daily News in August. About a third of the 2,223 inmates in state prisons were taking drugs to manage their mental illness. At the Intensive Mental Health Unit at the state prison in Warren, all inmates were medicated at the time of the survey.

The figures are even higher at Maine’s now consolidated youth corrections facility. More than half of all juvenile offenders, or 79 of the 127, took medications. Many of them are at high risk of returning to the prison system as adults, still in need of mental health treatment.

As high as those percentages are, they underrepresent the real population of inmates with mental illness, because the figure is nearly impossible to nail down.

County jail and corrections officials broadly agree that the rising volume of mentally ill patients is untenable. But counting prescriptions offers only a point-in-time snapshot of the problem. It also fails to account for offenders who are undiagnosed or have mental illnesses that don’t require medication, or varying, facility-to-facility policies for dispensing medications.

Inmate advocates also contend that budget cuts have spurred jails and prisons to crack down on taxpayer-funded prescription drugs, leaving some prisoners unmedicated.

Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton said many of the people walking through his jail’s doors are undoubtedly experiencing a mental health crisis, whether they have an official diagnosis or not. The need burdens everyone it touches from the sick individual to the law enforcement official apprehending them, from the jail taking custody to the taxpayer picking up the tab.

“There was a day when if a person was on the street yelling and screaming, [police] didn’t know what to do with them, so they were charged with disorderly conduct, end of problem,” Morton said. “But it wasn’t the end of the problem. It was a temporary delay.”

A moving target

After an arrest, inmates typically are asked about their mental health. Most correctional facilities follow National Commission on Correctional Health Care guidelines for initial screenings, which include a questionnaire that asks about current medications and thoughts of suicide.

Jail and prison staff do not make decisions about medical care, including for mental health problems, Morton said. All correctional facilities contract out for those services.

“We are not doctors,” he said.

Screeners review the questionnaire, “triage it, and get them to a provider” if the inmate is on prescription medications when they enter jail, said Geoffrey Archambeau, CEO of Correctional Health Partners, a Denver, Colorado-based company that contracts with the Penobscot County Jail, the Kennebec County Jail and other facilities throughout the country.

If an undiagnosed person is in crisis, they are directed to a medical provider who can prescribe medications, if warranted, according to jail officials from across the state.

“Usually they have committed a crime due to not taking their medication,” Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison said in an email.

One reason the state has no current count of inmates with mental health diagnoses is because “it’s not a searchable thing” since each jail uses a different computer management system, Archambeau said.

“Here’s the problem: Nobody has real numbers,” Morton said.

While the state has one centralized administrative system for all its facilities, called CORIS, it does not allow prison or Department of Corrections officials to query inmates’ mental health records because of medical privacy laws, according to Deputy Commissioner Jody Breton.

Only the department’s contracted medical provider, Correct Care Solutions, can search those records. John Newby, Correct Care regional vice president, found that in 2015, around 48 percent of juveniles and 34 percent of adult inmates were prescribed psych medications.

“For the State of Maine, we are actually below the national averages on prescribing of psychotropic medication,” Newby said in an email to Breton that she forwarded to the Bangor Daily News.

Many inmates diagnosed with mental illness also have developed drug dependency from “self-medicating,” according to Morton.

That often leaves jails serving as their region’s largest detox and mental illness crisis centers, he said.

“My question is: Is that what corrections is supposed to be about?” said Morton, who started as a corrections officer in 1988. “Is that really how we should be treating people with mental illness and substance abuse? To me, this is really an expensive way to do it.”

Cost pressures

Jails and prisons often fail to identify inmates with mental illness, according to an April 2014 report by two Texas doctors. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study examined a nationally representative sample of U.S. prisoners, finding that more than half who were taking medications for mental health conditions upon arrival failed to receive the drugs after incarceration.

“This lack of treatment continuity is partially attributable to screening procedures that do not result in treatment by a medical professional in prison,” the report states. “This treatment discontinuity has the potential to affect both recidivism and health care costs on release from prison.”

Joseph Jackson, who formed the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition upon his release from prison two years ago, says many inmates go without drugs they need or receive “cheaper” substitutes.

When he was arrested for shooting another man in 1995 and locked up in county jail, Jackson was taking medication for depression.

“I was on one treatment going in and they got rid of that,” said Jackson, who was the triggerman in a drug-related slaying in Lewiston on Easter morning 20 years ago that left one man dead. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been on one [prescription] for 20 years and it’s been working well. They say it’s because doctors on the outside are manipulated.”

When he was eventually convicted of manslaughter later that year, Jackson entered the state prison system. Again, his prescription for depression changed.

“They gave me amitriptyline,” Jackson said. “That is how, mostly, they dealt with us. They gave it away back then.”

But today, the cost of medications has changed how correctional facilities dispense them.

“It depends on what those pills cost,” said Jackson, who started a chapter of the NAACP and earned a college degree while behind bars. “They’re going to give you the cheapest pills.”

Providing substitute medications may help county and state pocketbooks, but Jackson describes that approach as an injustice against inmates.

At the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, inmates formerly received psychiatric medications upon request. But in 2011, the jail changed its policy “to only giving the medications when the inmate comes into the jail taking the medications and after being verified,” Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said in a recent email. “Or, when the doctors and/or psychologist believes that the medication is necessary.”

That change saved the jail thousands of dollars per year on medication costs, he said. Other jails have instituted the same policy.

For his part, Archambeau, the medical contractor for the Penobscot County Jail, disputes the contention that cost drives decisions on which drugs are dispensed. PCJ spends about $40,000 a year close to 8 percent of its $525,000 annual medical budget on psychotropic medications.

Yet costs can vary by facility. What jail and prison leaders say they have in common is that they’re doing all they can to accommodate inmates with mental illness.

Capt. Jeff Chute, Androscoggin County Jail administrator, said he has witnessed the transformation of county jails over the years. He started in law enforcement in 1984, joining the jail in 1995.

“We are de facto mental health facilities,” Chute said. “Sometimes we’re there to stabilize them. In order to prevent recidivism, we try to get them back on their meds.”

The costs go beyond prescription drugs, according to Dennison, the Knox County sheriff. When hospitals are full, jail officials pull double duty.

“We have to have a guard sit one-on-one with this person,” Dennison said. “Sad situation all around, not only for mental health folks but also for jails and officers.”

Fewer beds

The housing of Maine’s mentally ill in correctional facilities may be making headlines today, but the problem dates back decades, according to Sharon Sprague, superintendent of Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor.

Many of the country’s psychiatric institutions downsized or closed starting in the 1950s, under a process known as deinstitutionalization. States intended to care for psychiatric patients in their local communities, but often failed to set up adequate services.

“When you consider we had 1,200 patients in 1970 and are down to 40 patients today, it says a lot,” Sprague said of Dorothea Dix, which opened in 1901 as the Eastern Maine Insane Hospital. “Our capacity, if we were to fill all the units, is 51. That has been a huge change.”

Riverview opened in 2004, replacing the Augusta Mental Health Institute, which began in 1840 as the Maine Insane Hospital. Riverview has dual roles: to treat violent offenders and to assess those charged with crimes to determine whether they understand the charges and are competent to stand trial.

Among the patients housed there today is Leroy Smith, who made headlines earlier this month after Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Donald Marden issued an order authorizing the state to medicate him for six months against his will in an attempt to restore his competency to stand trial.

Smith was charged on May 6, 2014, with killing and dismembering his father, 56-year-old Leroy Smith II, and initially was found not competent to stand trial. He is now receiving psychotropic medication and will return to court in April.

Meanwhile, Riverview is fighting a 2013 decertification for poor patient care, which resulted in $20 million in forfeited federal Medicaid funding.

LePage has said his plan to modify the Windham prison for mental health patients will help get Riverview recertified.

At its peak, Riverview had a capacity of 1,500.

Today, Maine has just a fraction of that number, with about 270 psychiatric beds statewide. Riverview accounts for 92 and Dorothea Dix has 51. The other 127 beds are split between Acadia Hospital in Bangor, Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook, and eight community hospitals that all limit patient stays to 30 days.

That’s rarely enough to accommodate the need, experts say, even with Spring Harbor planning to reopen a dozen psychiatric beds after the recent award of $420,000 in state money. Such shortages are a problem in Maine and throughout the country, said Jenna Mehnert, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine, who came to Maine after working in Pennsylvania and New York.

“There aren’t enough psychiatric beds. And sometimes when officers need to divert a person to the hospital there is no room, and they end up back on the streets in jail or the emergency room,” she said.

Just compare the number of people in mental health institutions back in the 1970s to the populations in homeless shelters today, said Shawn Yardley, Bangor’s former director of health and community services.

“It’s an incredible correlation it’s the same number of people. What we’ve done is move the need for that comprehensive service from mental institutions to homeless shelters, not very successfully and not in the best interest of anybody,” he said.

Changing philosophies

In the past, the philosophy in prisons was to keep inmates with mental illness quiet until they completed their sentence, according to Dr. Dan Bannish, a psychologist at the state prison’s Intensive Mental Health Unit. Now prisons are treating the illness, he said at the unit’s opening in February 2014.

“It’s not a hospital. It’s an intensive mental health unit,” Corrections Commissioner Joe Fitzpatrick said in December. “We really did want this for treatment purposes, not for management purposes. It’s a critical piece and it’s probably the most challenging piece.”

A total of 70 inmates 39 from the Department of Corrections, 29 referred by county jails from across the state, and two from Riverview had been treated in the unit as of the end of January.

The number of suicidal behaviors has dropped considerably and self-abusive incidents among inmates in the program have fallen dramatically, he said.

Maine’s county jails also have made changes.

Aroostook County has a mental health nurse practitioner to screen every inmate’s case, said Sheriff Darrell Crandall.

Penobscot County Jail works with Acadia Hospital, which provides clinical services, including two hours of psychiatric services, each week.

Cumberland County Jail has two social workers and Androscoggin County Jail added a full-time social worker who helps inmates transition back into society in an effort to prevent recidivism, Chute said.

“We had to give up some positions for that,” he said. “It was extremely necessary.”

Chute, Crandall and Morton said law enforcement officers also have learned new ways to deal with people suffering from mental health problems.

The Portland Police Department has developed a specialized behavioral health response program, employing a special liaison who goes out on calls whenever mental illness is identified. The liaison also follows up with patients, conducts referrals and serves as a conduit between the department and behavioral health providers.

Mehnert said other departments should follow Portland’s lead.

“We expect [law enforcement] to be social workers, and it’s really not fair, and when they fail we demonize them,” Mehnert said.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine has spent years offering crisis intervention training to law enforcement and emergency responders from all over the state. Every police academy cadet in Maine also goes through that training, along with mental health first aid.

“A lot of this is educating the officers on the street trying to make sure [they can] identify if somebody is in mental health crisis or needs to be incarcerated for a crime,” Mehnert said. “I think that is a crucial thing.”

A smooth transition back into society is key to preventing criminals from reoffending, experts said. But those who are prescribed medication often struggle to pay for their drugs without a job or insurance coverage.

Most jails have transition programs in place, but funding for them often falls short of addressing the multiple factors that affect inmates’ success on the outside, Morton said.

“It’s crucial because if we only set up the mental health part of it, yet they don’t have housing, or they don’t have food or transportation, we’re setting them up for failure,” the Penobscot sheriff said.

“This is not a county jail issue,” Morton said. “It’s a societal issue.”

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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.

Only your vigilance on the outside can guarrentee that justice goes on on the inside.

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