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Torture in Maine Prison

Torture in Maine Prison

by Lance Tapley

The mission of the Maine State Prison is to provide a safe, secure, and humane correctional environment for the incarcerated offender.

Five hollering guards wearing helmets, face shields, and full body armor charge into a mentally ill mans cell. The first attacker smashes a big shield into him, knocking him down. The attackers jump on him, spray Mace into his face, push him onto his bed, and twist his arms to his back so they can handcuff him. They connect the cuffs by a chain to leg irons. Then they take him into the corridor, cut off all his clothes, and carry him naked and screaming through the cellblock, continuing to Mace him. They put him in an observation room where they bind him to a restraint chair with straps. He remains there naked and cold for hours, yelling and mumbling.

To many people, this scene would look like torture. A scene like it might have taken place in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, where American soldiers torment captured Iraqis. But as described to me independently by six prisoners, including some who have suffered this attack, it is business as usual an extraction for disobedience in the Special Management Unit, also known as the SMU or the Supermax, a 100-cell, maximum-security, solitary-confinement facility inside the new 1,100-cell Maine State Prison in Warren. The Supermaxs regulations say it is a place for prisoners who are threats to others, are escape risks, who are found with contraband, or who simply dont obey the rules.

For me to verify the prisoners stories, a source who wished not to be identified to preserve his relationship with the prison gave the Phoenix a videotape of a cell extraction of a young man. He was not one of the men I interviewed. The prison tapes each extraction in order to prove, some people would say ironically, that the prisoner is not mistreated. The videotape I obtained, although dated to 2000, corroborates the stories I heard. In the end, the man is fully naked in the restraint chair, with no trace of human dignity. My source tells me that sometimes there are women guards present. According to the prisoners I interviewed, it gets a lot worse than what the video depicts.

After collecting this and other information that suggest the Supermax fits some classic definitions of torture, I went to interview Maines corrections commissioner, Martin Magnusson, in his Augusta office beside the beautiful, smooth Kennebec River. He is, at 57, a plain-speaking, heavy-set, balding man and the former warden of the prison.

As I begin reading the notes that became the first paragraph of this story, he interrupts me halfway through, his demeanor gloomy.

He wants to de-escalate use of the restraint chair, he says, and he is developing a plan to do it. Although he believes there are legitimate reasons for extractions, and he says more than 200 have already been done at the time of the interview last year, he has tried to tighten up the rules on them, he claims. And he has reduced use of the chair from 1,300 in 2003 to a rate that will see 900 uses by the end of 2005, he says.

While woman guards may be present when such discipline occurs, he says he ordered over a year ago that prisoners be clothed while in the chair, whenever practicable. He also claims that now in no way is the chair being used for punishment, although the Supermax prisoners dispute this. Rather, he says, it is used when someone is a threat to others or himself. He adds: That was always the way it was supposed to be, but he admits that in the past each case wasnt being reviewed.

He also announces what appears to be a major turnaround: He wants to reform the way many things are done at the Supermax. We need to look at the system and see how we can do better, he says, suggesting that carrots (rewards) might be emphasized over sticks (punishment).

The treatment of prisoners at the Supermax has long been controversial. Prisoners, defense attorneys, and the few prison watchdog organizations tend to portray the extractions and the entire Supermax system, which in the past 20 years has become widespread across the country as part of a cruel, unnecessary, counterproductive, and expensive-to-the-taxpayer cycle of violence that has roughly shoved aside all pretense of corrections.
They depict the worst part of this cycle in this way:

" First, a mentally ill or unstable prisoner is brought to the Supermax, often for a nonviolent violation like having contraband such as forbidden tools or illegal drugs (by numerous reports, heroin is prevalent in the prison).

" Next, the prisoner acts up under the pressure of weeks or months of confinement to his cell and under the stress of living with more-disturbed prisoners in his cellblock, some of whom throw their urine, feces, and blood at the guards, who become frightened and incensed.

" After he commits a violation of Supermax discipline, as punishment the guards extract the prisoner from his cell and put him in a restraint chair.

" After one or more of these harsh episodes, the prisoner becomes more mentally ill. He may become one of those who throw filth at the guards, creating an extremely hazardous situation for them, himself, and other prisoners. Each prisoner I interviewed complained vigorously that the SMU was not properly cleaned in fact, that it reeked of excrement, urine, and blood.

" Once again, the prisoner is extracted and put in a restraint chair possibly, many times more. This treatment drives him crazier. He likely will be prosecuted for assault on the guards and sentenced to five more years in prison, much of which time he may spend in the SMU.

" Finally, the prisoner shows all the symptoms of being totally insane, in despair, and suicidal and suicidal threats lead to more extractions.
Magnusson, the corrections commissioner, says theres some truth to this cycle, though he feels it doesnt happen that much.

The truth is hard to verify precisely. Many prisoners have made their way in the world through deception. Two defense attorneys who are horrified by the Supermax nevertheless warned me against accepting everything I heard from prisoners at face value. But the prisoners stories and those collected by prison critics hang together well.

And the prisoners seem more forthcoming than their keepers. The prison was at first uncooperative with my efforts to interview prisoners and continued to be uncooperative with my wish to interview prison personnel. I never was allowed to interview the warden, Jeffrey Merrill, who had been sick but neither was I allowed to interview his deputies. The Supermax was off limits to me. It appears to be off limits to almost all independent observers.

After the intervention of the governors office, however, I finally was allowed to see the six prisoners. I was separated from them by thick glass, and we spoke through tinny speakers. They were in handcuffs, leg irons, and orange prison jumpsuits.

And I finally obtained a lengthy interview with Commissioner Magnusson. Surprising me, he did not want to defend the Supermax as much as he wanted to convince me he was going to reform it.

Both he and prison critics have similar explanations of why these big, high-tech institutions were built across the country, with their restraint chairs, in the 1980s and 1990s. As Americas incarceration rate, which became the highest in the world, went through the roof of the old state prisons, the population explosion threw the old and new prisons into turmoil; supermaxes segregated the most troublesome prisoners. According to the prison critics, supermaxes also were part of the mushrooming, profitable prison industry and something of a cruel fad.

Maines Supermax, originally a freestanding facility, opened in 1992. In 2001, the new state prison, which replaced Thomastons 1824 landmark, was built around it. Literally and metaphorically, it is at the core of the new prison system.

Prison critics say that supermaxes and the rest of our countrys prison policies are failures, as irrefutably demonstrated by the high recidivism rate among prisoners their return to crime and by the continuing tumult roiling the many new prisons, including Maines.

Michael James

They beat the shit out of you, says SMU prisoner Michael James, speaking hunched against the thick glass. He is talking about the extractions hes endured. They push you, knee you, poke you. The guards full roughness doesnt get captured on the videos, he says, because the camera gazes at the guards backs.

They slam your head against the wall and drop you on the floor while you are cuffed, James says, showing a scar on his chin They split it wide open.

Theyre yelling Stop resisting! Stop resisting! when you are not even moving, he says, although he admits he resists sometimes. He says hes been Maced countless times and has spent long periods in the restraint chair.

Theres a lot who shouldnt work here because they get a kick out of controlling people, he adds.

Then he says, his eyes brightening: Theres some [guards] that are absolutely awesome.

You know, instantly, something is wrong when you meet an otherwise handsome Michael James, 22. He has a small top of the head and a very prominent brow ridge over deep-set eyes. You notice the scars on his shaved head including, when he bends over, a deep, horizontal gash on the top. He got this, he says, by scraping his head over and over on the metal slot in his cell door used for passing in food trays.

They were messing with me, he explains. I couldnt stand it no more.
He is referring to the guards, who he says taunt him.

Ive knocked myself out by running full force into the [cell] wall in frustration, he says.

James says a family member beat him as a child: I got a broken nose. I was punched, kicked, slapped, bitten, thrown against the wall. He started seeing mental-health workers when he was four, he says, and getting medication for his mental problems when he was seven. He only made it through the second grade in regular school, he says, and he spent most of his childhood in the states mental hospitals and homes for mentally disturbed children.

Hes been diagnosed, he says, as being bipolar (manic depressive) and having an antisocial personality. He says his other diagnoses are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and oppositional defiance disorder. He is on several psychotropic medications, he says, but he claims he seldom gets to see a mental-health worker.

His lawyer, Joseph Steinberger of Rockland, is trying to get him admitted to the states Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, which has replaced the Augusta Mental Health Institute. But for the prison authorities to admit that I need to be there would be to admit that they were wrong, James says.

He was in trouble with the law as a juvenile, he says, but his real problems began when he was taken off medications by one hospital when he was 18. He says he got into selling drugs, robbing people, fighting, burglaries. His combination of offenses has resulted in his current 12-year sentence. Of the four years he has been in prison, all but five months have been spent in the SMU, he says.

James confirms a story I heard from another prisoner: He believes a guard asked a convicted murderer how much it would cost to have him killed. James made an internal prison complaint, but he says nothing was done because the guard said he was only joking.

He is facing a November 28 trial for assaulting a guard by throwing feces on him. His lawyer, he says, will plead insanity.

The SMU is disgusting, filthy, he says. The showers havent been cleaned for months. Theres slime and blood and shit on the walls. They just sweep it up.

Snow comes under the door of his cell in the winter, he says, and the food is insufficient. He says the doors to two prisoners cells are chained so that if a fire begins they could not get out when the doors are opened automatically.

Its mental torture, even for people who are able to control themselves, he says.

But the worst thing about prison, he believes, beyond all that he describes, is they deny me access to better myself.

Other Supermax prisoners confirm Jamess story and his complaints. All the others I talk with are worried about him. As I go through my interviews, I am struck by how concerned these criminals are for each other, how candid they seem about their crimes and psychological problems, and how articulate many of them are.

Deane Brown

One of the most articulate is Deane Brown, 41, a big man with long, dark hair, a Fu Manchu beard, and lively eyes. Sentenced to 59 years for a string of burglaries in the mid-90s, he jokes that he was given a far longer sentence than the man who murdered his brother. He recently marked the point when he has spent the majority of his life in prisons.

He is worried that he will soon be transferred out of state as several Supermax friends recently were because of his complaints about conditions there. He has written letters posted on the Web site called the Maine Supermax Watch ( and has had his telephone calls played over WRFR, a small Rockland nonprofit radio station.

He was put in the Supermax in May for possessing contraband, he says such things as a razor blade, a screwdriver, a soldering iron, and wire, all of which he claims he used for fixing other inmates televisions and electronic devices. But the prison views him as an escape risk, he adds.
They put you down here for any reason, he says. There is no charge against me for trying to escape. He believes that, under a recent United States Supreme Court decision, Supermax prisoners are entitled to due process on their placement in such a restrictive setting. He says the prison gives him no idea what he has to do to be readmitted to the general prison population.

Since being put in the SMU he has become concerned about his teeth, which are visibly loose and coated with gray plaque. He isnt allowed a toothbrush or floss, he says. He shows me a tiny plastic device the prison gave him. It fits over the tip of a finger. It does not work well enough to keep his teeth clean, he says.

He is protesting the SMU by not taking his diabetic medicine, he says. He feels his health is more threatened by the SMUs lack of hygiene. The food cart is dragged through feces, and the ceiling is plastered with feces, he says.

Its supposed to be an administrative program for correcting behavior, but its creating animals, he says. I saw a guy eat his own feces.

Seeing me wince, Brown half-apologizes: I know its distressing.

Of Michael James, he says: I saw him bare-assed naked in chains being dragged through the cellblock. He believes James has spent more time in the restraint chair than anyone else.

Brown says he saw another prisoner after a cell extraction with his eye and nose bleeding.

He believes the SMUs 23-hour daily lockdown is psychological torture. Its a combination, he says, of sensory deprivation, a constant cellblock din with no diverting radio or TV allowed, and with lights on 24/7. For one hour, five days a week, he says, the prisoners are allowed to exercise in a 6-foot-wide, 30-foot-long cage that he calls a kennel.

Although Brown refers to others in the SMU as mentally ill, he says he has been in a mental institution and a number of homes for troubled children and adolescents. He suffered early child abuse, he says, recounting how he was chained to the sink at home. He spent years at a boot-camp-type institution for drug abusers that he considers abusive, he says: Three times they tied me up and buried me up to my neck in dirt overnight in the cold.

Obviously quite intelligent, he is teaching himself ancient Greek. He also is reading at the same time the Bible and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (of God is dead fame) and comparing them.

Something inside of you that tells you something is wrong . . . thats God, he says.

Joseph Reeves

I had my arm broken while handcuffed behind my back while face down on the floor and Maced so I couldnt see, recounts Joseph Reeves, 25, a narrow-faced man with a wispy, billy-goat beard and delicate tattoos on his pale skin.

Guards broke his arm during an extraction, he says: They said I wouldnt open my hands, but I was handcuffed and I blacked out. My hands were clenched.

When he came back to the unit from the hospital, he says, the prison staff, suspecting contraband in the cast, cut it off with dull scissors. As a result of the arm not healing properly, he has a piece of loose bone in it, he says.

He, too, is concerned about Michael James: They constantly beat that kid. Such mentally troubled prisoners would rather die than be here, he says. Lots of SMU prisoners have tried to kill themselves, he claims.

He has had mental problems. Im impulsive, he admits, a trait that leads him sometimes to resist the extractions. He has been in several mental institutions, he says, and he feels he doesnt get the care for his mental problems that he needs.

He also is upset with what he calls sexual intimidation in the form of strip searches and butt searches.

The guards at the drop of a hat will Mace you, he says. Like the other prisoners I interviewed, he says of the guards there are good ones, but they are so outnumbered. The prisoners speak fondly of the good guards.
Reeves is serving a five-year term for robbery and gun possession, he says, and much of it so far has been spent in the SMU.

After my visit, he wrote me that he is in a 16-cell pod all by himself. He sent me pages from an Amnesty International publication on how isolation, degradation, threats, and monopolization of perception constitute torture.

Norman Kehling

Norman Kehling, 47, small, balding, seemingly a calm type, is the former head of the institutions long timers group, he says. He has been in the Maine State Prison since 1989, serving 40 years for arson a record sentence, he believes, when no one was hurt in the blaze. He is in the SMU this time for trafficking in heroin, he says. There is quite a bit of heroin in the prison, he claims.

Also confirming the other descriptions of the extractions, Kehling tells of what happened to a young prisoner who pulled a sprinkler alarm: They told him to cuff up. Then they rolled in on him with a team [in his cell]. They put it to him, plowed into him, took him down.

A lot of people act up in the Supermax, he says, because Its easy to stir these people up, describing the guards as instigators. And part of the problem, he says, is that the guards are scared: Ive seen them shaking.

He doesnt believe there is meaningful help for mental-health cases in the Supermax:

One guy cut his testicle out of his sack . . . They shouldnt be here.
He adds: This place breeds hate. What theyre doing obviously isnt working.

Michael Chasse

Conditions have been consistently filthy for the last eight years since Ive been here, says Michael Chasse, a very tall, well-spoken, pleasant-seeming, 30-year-old man with slicked-down black hair.

He describes an SMU prisoner who constantly tried to cut himself because he was so frustrated with the ways officers treated him. Theres a lot of self-destructive behavior in here. A lot of these people are suicidal.
(In fact, despite supposedly overwhelming security, within the past six years one prisoner has killed himself in the Supermax and another in the adjacent 36-bed psychiatric unit only half of which is used because of insufficient staff, prison authorities say.)

On Michael James, he comments: That kid has gone nuts since he was put in here. Ive seen him get beat up. Ive seen two cops jamming his hands in a tray slot. (Cops is a term some prisoners use for their guards.)

He tells of the psychological effects of being locked into his cell for 23 hours a day: There is a noise that comes from the air vents. The sounds start to seem like voices. I have built imaginary relationships with those white noises.

He admits he threw feces and urine at two guards. He says it was done in return for their exposing him to feces and urine in his cell: My dignity was stripped.

Although he says that most of the people in the Supermax should not be there, he doesnt make that claim for himself: Im one of the bad apples.
Indeed, he seems proud of the notoriety of his crimes. He was involved in a bungled robbery, in which he was shot, at the Bangor home of the brother of former Senator and Defense Secretary William Cohen. During the trial for that crime, he escaped from his jailers, stabbing a couple of guards in the process, in an episode caught partly on videotape by a television news crew who happened to be there front page of the Bangor Daily News, he notes. He is in the Supermax this time, he says, for having a weight bar in his cell.

Chasse is a classic jailhouse lawyer, able to reel off detailed legal citations from memory. He believes that many placements in the SMU are illegal because they are based on rumors of what a prisoner might do. This place runs on confidential information, he says, but he believes court decisions require an independent assessment of the credibility of an informer.

Like the other prisoners, he has a sad story to tell of his youth. But now, he says, he is trying to make his life meaningful though he expects to spend the rest of it behind bars trying to help people through the laws. Im devoting myself to protecting prisoners constitutional rights.
Charles Limanni

About a month previous, says Chuck Limanni, a prisoner threw a lunch tray back out the tray slot. The guards told him to come out and clean it up, and he refused:

They instantly Maced him behind a locked door! Then the extraction team came . . . He was put in the restraint chair because he refused to clean up the food on the cellblock floor, Limanni says indignantly.

He is another prisoner who is concerned about Michael James: That kid doesnt belong here. He never had a chance. The guards, he says, antagonize him, call him names. It makes me sick. This place breeds hate. I hate cops. I hate the government.

He adds that the prison system is set up to hurt you, to torture you.
Good-looking, longish brown hair, 33, he was put in prison for robbery not the first time and in the SMU in May, 2004, for, he says, suspicion of drug trafficking. But, he says, no drugs were found.

He feels the real reason was Im a leader. I have a lot of willpower. Im a political threat to them.

In the Supermax, theres no program here. If [the inmates] had something to do, they wouldnt be doing this shit acting up.

Others even the commissioner agree

Recognition of the problems of Maines Supermax and of supermaxes in general is by no means restricted to those confined in it.

The process by which people are put in the Supermax is completely unconscionable, says Rockland attorney Joseph Steinberger, who has represented a number of SMU prisoners and now represents James. And once prisoners are there, Basically they live like animals in cages, he says.
He is strongly opposed to keeping mentally ill people in such an environment:

I had a client who was wildly delusional. He attacked a staff member. He had no idea what he had done. Because a judge insisted, he was brought to Riverview [the new state mental hospital]. He has made enormous progress there.

Riverview, he says, is a fine place, but they have so few beds its pathetic.

Behind this unpleasant scene, Steinberger says, the real villain is the governor and the Legislature. Its cheaper politically to keep them in a cage but not cheaper financially, he adds.

He sees the entire prison system as largely a failure: Theres a heroin epidemic at the prison. Some people are getting addicted in prison who never used heroin before. Ive defended at least a dozen people whove been accused of having heroin in prison.

Another Rockland attorney who also represents many prisoners, Barry Pretzel finds the Supermax inhumane and unacceptable. Of the extractions, he says, it appears its purpose is to humiliate.

Like Steinberger, he is especially concerned about what the Supermax does to its many mentally ill prisoners. Its a circular pattern, he says. It tends to make people who are mentally ill act up even more . . . A lot of the prisoners are in there for relatively minor offenses, but they end up serving a life sentence on the installment plan, as I heard a judge say.
A retired lawyer in Damariscotta, Richard Gerrity, has been campaigning for some time to have Michael James dealt with in a humane way. Protesting that the SMU is a drop-off for the mentally ill that no one, including the inmates, want to deal with, he pleads in a letter to Commissioner Magnusson that James needs to be moved immediately to a psychiatric institution before he destroys himself.

Others who have protested Maines Supermax include Carol Carothers, a leader of the Maine chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. In 2001, she was quoted in the Bangor Daily News as saying that the Supermaxs practices might have crossed into the realm of torture.

State officials across the country are realizing what the ACLU has been saying all along, which is that Supermax conditions are neither a humane nor an effective type of confinement, writes MCLU director Shenna Bellows in an email to me.

In 2000, in a case involving an SMU inmate, a Maine Superior Court judge, Andrew Mead, commented in his decision: It is difficult to imagine any person mentally healthy or not bearing up under months of such conditions.

In 2000, the United Nations questioned the United States government about torture, including housing mentally ill patients in supermaxes. The US responded, according to a UN press release, that in federal prisons:
Prisoners were screened and monitored for mental illness; and classification systems were in place so that confinement was not indefinite and that prisoners meeting certain criteria were transferred to less structured settings where appropriate. [Editors Note: This also appears to be untrue given the practice of the Bureau of Prisons of indefinitely confining prisoners in its lock down prisons.] The US response did not deal with state prisons.

But the most significant critic of the Supermax, to me, may be Commissioner Magnusson. In our two-and-a-half-hour interview and even before I lay out fully the condemnations I had of the Supermax he agrees that much needs to be changed.

We should be open to see if there are better ways to operate it, he says, and he talks of bringing in a national team of experts soon to see how this could be done.

When asked for comment on the Corrections Departments commitment to reform, Governor John Baldacci replies in a statement from his press office: The governor is confident that the department led by Commissioner Marty Magnusson is not only open to constructive criticism, but embraces it thats why we see improvements.

With the prison system as a whole, Magnusson says, his intention is to go from a more punitive approach to more of a treatment approach.

He adds: It will be a real struggle to get the staff to change. In a later telephone conversation, he comments: I will piss off some of the staff by saying this.

Change may be a struggle for him, too, he admits: I came up through a system where discipline is what you do.

In his law review article on the national Supermax scene, ACLU attorney David Fathi writes: There are unmistakable signs that the bloom is off the Supermax experiment. Corrections Commissioner Magnussons comments may indicate that this is the case in Maine, too.
Reforming the Supermax

Before the previous story was published, I recounted to several critics of the prison system what Magnusson, the former prison warden, had told me about Supermax reform. They were skeptical.

Sometimes those in charge promise a fix, but five years later nothing has changed, said Barry Pretzel, a Rockland attorney whose clients have included a number of Supermax prisoners. Theyre either out of office, or theyre hoping no one will call them on an earlier promise.

Its hard to imagine reprogramming that physical space, said Craig McEwen, a sociology professor, academic dean at Bowdoin College, and a long-time critic of Maines prisons.

I myself became a little skeptical when John Baldaccis chief aide, Lee Umphrey, sent me an email expressing the governors commitment to reform and he mistakenly left on the bottom of the message his email correspondence with Denise Lord, the associate corrections commissioner. The correspondence suggested that the commitment hadnt directly come from Baldacci and that my questions were being dealt with perfunctorily.
Give me two sentences and I will be all set, Umphrey told Lord in the email.

In our conversations, even Magnusson sometimes sounded skeptical of reform. I dont know a more humane way to deal with the situation when theyre hurting themselves, he said, describing the use of the restraint chair.
But he pledged to bring a group to Maine soon from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) some of the top people in the country . . . to review all our practices.

The NIC is a think-tank on prison issues. Its a part of the United States Department of Justice and was established after the 1971 Attica Prison riots in New York.

A top NIC official in Washington, DC, George Keiser, confirms that the Maine Department of Corrections had approached his agency for help in reforming the Supermax, but he says it is unlikely the NIC would send people to Maine, at least immediately. We want to take three or four folks from Maine to the Colorado Department of Corrections, he says, to let them see an effective Supermax.

The timing of the departments vow to reform also inspires skepticism. Both Keiser and Denise Lord of the corrections department say the arrangements with NIC were made only in the first week of November, 2005 and I interviewed Magnusson, laying out for him my story of alleged torture at the Supermax, on the Monday of that week.

But Magnusson says his departments interest in reforming Supermax practices goes back a ways. For a long time weve tried to figure out how to get them to stop throwing feces and cutting up, he says. Recently, hes been encouraged by the success hes seen at the Long Creek Youth Development Center, in South Portland.

There, the recidivism rate the return to crime of released offenders has plummeted from 50 percent to 10 percent in one year, he says. Magnusson guesses the state prisons recidivism rate is about 40 percent (he claims not to have hard numbers). The national recidivism rate is 55 to 60 percent, he says, and Californias reaches 75 percent. The Warren prisoners have been in prison an average of three to five times, according to Magnusson.

The youth-center reform was accomplished, he believes, through much improved programming at the facility. And now community resources are stronger for the young prisoners. The staff did so much training in how to de-escalate use of the restraint chair verbally calming down individuals instead of throwing them in the chair that now the chair is out in a warehouse getting cobwebs on it. At this institution, too, he says, a progressive reward system was successfully put in place.

The reforms at the youth center took place after years of intense public criticism. Amnesty International in the late 1990s accused the place of mistreating children. A former prisoner claimed, in a 2001 lawsuit, that he suffered excessive solitary confinement and use of the restraint chair; the state settled out of court for $600,000. The youth centers superintendent was replaced in 2003.

Magnusson says he wants to bring in the NIC to help implement a rewards system at the Supermax and to create stages whereby prisoners can eventually be assimilated back to the general prison population. For example, a prisoner could earn more time outside the cell than the five hours a week now permitted.

The basic intent? To go from a more punitive approach to more of a treatment approach, Magnusson says.

It Sounds Good, But . . .

If Magnusson is sincere in wanting to reform the current system and he switches in conversation from the Supermax to the entire prison system when he talks about reforms he faces enormous obstacles.

The 2001 creation of the new Warren prison, which was built around the Supermax, caused big problems, and not much money has been provided by the state Legislature to deal with them.

While waiting to interview Supermax prisoners, I talked casually with several guards. They had little good to say about the new prison.

Ninety-nine percent of the people here would go back to the old prison in a heartbeat, one tall, middle-aged guard told me, referring to both prisoners and guards. The old prison in Thomaston was quiet, he said, unlike the new one: There was a pecking order among the prisoners. A woman guard nodded agreement.

Youre right, Magnusson responds when told of these complaints. The much more comfortable old prison had 430 beds, he says, and the new one quickly filled up to its 1,100-prisoner capacity, creating a host of adjustment problems, especially with the addition of hundreds of young prisoners from the Maine Correctional Center, in South Windham, and the overcrowed county jails. And the design of the new prison placed guards tensely alone in a pod, or cellblock, with prisoners.

Assaults on guards and prisoners shot up, helping fill the Supermax, which is used to hold troublesome prisoners (according to state officials, the Supermax usually is at about 90 percent capacity). And so did the difficulty of recruiting and retaining personnel at the prison, which now has 428 employees. Magnusson noted that, while there are 600 more adult prisoners in the corrections system than there were in 1995, there are 100 fewer staff. Right now he is faced with a mandatory overtime pay problem because, he says, he cant understaff the prison.

The Legislature and the governor have been stingy in funding prisons (my characterization, not Magnussons). The state prison budget has gone up in dollar figures, reflecting the increasing number of prisoners from $21 million in 1998 to $32 million in 2004. The total corrections budget is $132 million this year. But Magnusson has been unable to hire more permanent staff for a long time, he says. (According to a printout he provided, it has been about four years.) He says the reforms he will undertake will not involve significant expenses.

Maine has the second-lowest crime rate in the nation, and the rate has been declining, as is happening nationally. The state also has the lowest incarceration rate. On the flip side, prison populations have been shooting up for years both in Maine and across the nation. Magnusson says he never saw this coming the huge increase in Maines prison population and the resulting strains, including overcrowing in just about every facility. The incarceration rate in the state has more than doubled in the past 25 years. For the population increase, Magnusson largely blames mid-1990s changes in the sentencing laws and district attorneys who got plea bargains that sent prisoners to the state prison instead of to the congested county jails.

The Problems Run Deep

The obstacles to prison reform are hardly Maine-specific. Most profoundly, they lie in the human psyche on the battleground between revenge and forgiveness, between hope and pessimism. Global opinion condemns the US for capital punishment (though Maine doesnt have it), the nations highest-in-the-world incarceration rate, and its supermaxes.

Many criminologists say the supermaxes and the prison system as a whole are demonstrably counterproductive, if one assumes the goal is to return prisoners who wont commit crimes again to society. The high recidivism rate proves this, they say; the exiting convicts are not being corrected or reformed.

Arguably, the prison system is a success on another level, suggests sociologist and Bowdoin dean Craig McEwen: the crime-rate may be going down in the US because 2.3 million of the most likely crime-doers are locked up the number continues to climb each year and the supermaxes work in a sense because they remove disruptive people from the general prison population.

But most citizens would prefer that the 90 percent of prisoners coming out of prison dont continue their criminal activity. And theres a strong line of evidence and argument that punitive responses are not likely to be effective as deterrents to the bad actions of prisoners or released prisoners, McEwan says.

Another penal expert in Maine concurs, and he has more than academic expertise with the prison system. Peter Lehman, who has a doctorate in sociology and who formerly taught criminology at the University of Southern Maine, is himself on probation after spending five years at the former Maine State Prison, in Thomaston, and the nearby prison farm. Lehman was convicted, in 1998, of taking sexual photographs of four girls, aged 12 to 15, and having sex with a 15-year-old.

Talking with Lehman on the phone, I am struck by his extraordinary combination of practical and scholarly insights. I suggest we meet, which we do in an Augusta coffee shop.

He is a diminutive, bearded 60-year-old. He lives in the mid-coast and is trying to earn a living as an entrepreneur. The Internet-posted state registry of sex offenders makes earning a living difficult.

Ill never get a job, he says.

He tends to become professorial when talking about his expertise.

Most crimes are expressive, not instrumental, he asserts, using sociological terms. What he means is that it is an emotion, such as rage or fear, or the high of an addictive behavior, that drives many people to commit crimes, both outside of and within prison and not the calculation of benefits, not the view of the crime as a means to an end.

Have you ever slammed a door when youre angry or frustrated? he asks. It feels good. Its not instrumental, but expressive.

He calls the Supermax simply one end of a continuum in the prison system. How to stop Supermax prisoners from throwing urine and feces? The prison thinks the way to deal with that is punishment, Lehman says, but this [the prisoners action] is not a calculated, rational decision. This is an expression of rage.

Lehman believes prisons breed antisocial behavior: Say an inmate borrows a magazine or a CD from someone else. One of the rules is no giving or receiving. If person A is caught with Bs CD and the officer wants to push it, both are subject to disciplinary action. People can actually lose [good] time for that. It could mean that you could lose privileges. You could actually lose your job or get sent to the Supermax.

He continues: Now most of us as human beings would think its a virtue to loan something to somebody to help them out. But in prison, this social behavior is penalized.

Despite these antisocial rules, Lehman says, one of the most amazing things is how much [inmates] risk punishment to help each other. . . . But to be generous they have to lie, pretend, sneak around.

Incarceration creates a situation where all of the kinds of issues that you have are very typically heightened trauma, degradation, lack of a sense of self. Im not sure that I met more than a handful of men in prison who didnt have a trauma history. Prison deepens these kinds of issues and wounds.

There is an arbitrariness about discipline. The rules are such that it is virtually impossible to avoid a situation where anybody can get busted at any time. Most guards mean well, he says, but they are stuck in a bad system.

McEwen agrees with Lehmans view that crime is mostly expressive. And he thinks Lehmans description of how the prison rewards antisocial behavior is a great insight. The Supermax was basically designed to prevent cooperative behavior, McEwen says. By isolating people, supermaxes dont socialize people to get along with each other.
Do We Want To Change Things?

The more cynical prisoners and civilians will tell you the prison industry is a big business that thrives on crime, recidivism, and severe, counterproductive punishment, as evidenced by the enormous prison building boom of the past 20 years, by the growth of large private prison corporations nationally (there are no private prisons in Maine), and by strong guard unions that contribute to politicians campaign treasuries. There are many salaries and careers tied up in the caretaking of prisoners.
Recidivism is money in the bank for this industry, Supermax prisoner Deane Browne tells me.

Even the less cynical among political observers would tend to place government corrections budgets, like the budgets for the mentally ill, far down the funding-priority ladder.

And everyone to whom I asked the question agreed prisons are dumping grounds for the mentally ill.

Thats true of every [correctional] system, says Denise Lord, the associate corrections commissioner. Some estimates of the recidivism of mentally ill prisoners are as high as 80 percent. The state corrections department estimates that 85 percent of prisoners in its system have mental illness or substance-abuse problems. Lord says that 40 percent of the state prisons captives are on psychotropic drugs.

She also says Maine has a greater percentage of mentally ill prisoners than any other state. In chorus, both Commissioner Magnusson and Lord emphatically say they want to put more mentally ill prisoners into mental health facilities but there is no room for them because the beds at these facilities are all full.

It is almost a given in political circles that the public and its legislators are callous about what happens in the prisons though they are concerned about crime, especially when a notorious crime occurs and politicians can make hay over it.

Society is ignorant of this stuff because they dont want to hear [about it], says Chuck Limanni, a Supermax prisoner I interviewed, about prison abuse. They dont realize this stuff is hurting them, too. The majority in here are getting out. Most of the time theyre worse off than they were, and they create more harm. They learn to hate.

He adds: While being punished, it would be good to learn a skill. Limanni says that the last time he was out of prison, he and his girlfriend had a $1,300-a-day cocaine habit that needed to be fed, and for many addicts the only way to do it is to steal.

Bowdoin sociologist Craig McEwen comments on the politicization of crime, fed by the media. We demonize certain types of criminal activity, reinforcing the notion that more punishment is better the language of toughness on crime & its politically profitable.

In analyzing tough on crime attitudes, both doctors McEwen and Lehman speak of moral panics, which, according to one dictionary definition, is a mass movement based on the false or exaggerated perception that some individual or group . . . is dangerously deviant and poses a menace to society. Moral panics are generally fueled by media coverage of social issues.

The relationship of legislation to moral panics is close, McEwen says. In the sociological community, there is a good deal of agreement on the political momentum that builds from one or two well-publicized cases. He mentions the first President Bushs notorious Willie Horton TV ad from the 1988 presidential campaign that drove many state legislatures to wipe out parole for convicts. [Editors Note: Al Gore first raised the Willie Horton issue in the Democratic primary.] After one little boy was raped and mutilated in Washington, states instituted sex-offender registries.

Even the Department of Corrections seems to agree, at least in part, with the moral-panic problem. Both Magnusson and Lord express concern about legislators in the coming session leading a charge to invent new crimes or establish tougher penalties for crimes arising, for example, from a trucker involved in a fatal accident while driving after license suspension. Or from national news about identity theft or methamphetamine manufacture.

But lack of concern may be a bigger obstacle to prison reform than panic is. Senator Bill Diamond, the Democrat from Windham who is chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which oversees the state correctional system, has not had any problems expressed to him about mentally ill prisoners in the Supermax, he says in a phone interview.

There is a problem with funding, however, for the prison, he says. The Legislature required an extra $1.5-million cut in the corrections budget in the last session, he explains, and I suspect there are funding deficiencies in all their areas. His party controls the Legislature.

Diamond, who has worked as a lobbyist for the Elan School, the Poland Spring facility that puts troubled young people through controversial therapy (it was investigated by the state in 2002 for alleged abuse of its clients) agrees that there is not a lot of support from the public for prison funding: People have other priorities such as, at the moment, he says, how to heat their homes when fuel-oil prices are sky-high. He did not seem terribly interested in the subject of Supermax abuse.

The Solution To The Supermax Problem?

There are lots of things critics of the correctional system, including Commissioner Magnusson, say could be done to end what some people see as abuse or torture at the Supermax, and many of these ideas could apply to reform of the entire prison system: have more therapy and less punishment; make corrections more community-based; provide more pay for better-trained guards; stop putting mentally ill people in prison; give prisoners incentive to work their way out of the Supermax.

To solve the prison problem and the worst part of it, the Supermax, Peter Lehman believes, We have to accept the fact that these are also social issues, not just individual ones. . . . We are unique [in the world] in refusing healing and redemption.

Does punishment not work, I ask Commissioner Magnusson point-blank?

I would agree with that, he replies.

If Magnusson is right, the more therapeutic and compassionate practices at the Long Creek Youth Developmental Center show the way.

If they re-thought, it would be a brilliant stroke, says McEwen of the states corrections department especially, he believes, if the Supermax could be shut down.

They could take real leadership nationally.

So now we have Commissioner Martin Magnusson, prisoner Chuck Limanni, former sociologist and prisoner Peter Lehman, and Bowdoin College dean and sociologist Craig McEwen agreeing that punishment doesnt work.

Perhaps they ought to be on a committee to reform the Supermax.

Pressure Rising

Since the above articles were published in the Portland Phoenix, several important developments related to the Supermax have taken place:

-In December, 2005, the prison released Deane Brown into the general prisoner population. He was one of six Supermax prisoners interviewed for the November articles. But he is continuing a medicine strike refusing drugs for his diabetes and other health problems until Supermax conditions are improved. He says he is willing to die to bring attention to its abusive environment.

-In February, 2006, the Maine Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the state to force improvement in the treatment of the mentally ill prisoners in the Supermax (officially, the Special Management Unit or SMU).

-State Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson recently told the Legislatures Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that he soon would take specific steps to reform the SMU. When interviewed last fall, Magnusson had promised sweeping reforms.

-The midcoast district attorney charged a former prison guard with assault on a prisoner being extracted from his Supermax cell. This was the first time in at least 25 years that a Maine State Prison guard was charged with using illegal force.

-Public reaction to the two articles, while generally positive, included protests that our presentation neglected the prison guards viewpoint as well as pleas from prisoners and their advocates for us to look into other cases of injustice involving prisoners.

Deane Browns Protest

Although free from solitary confinement for three months, Deane Brown looks thinner and paler than when interviewed in October, 2005. His voice is weaker, he is less animated, and his loose teeth look worse.

Intelligent and articulate, Brown is in his early 40s. After an abusive childhood in Rockland and decades of treatment for mental problems, his activities in the mid-1990s resulted in a 59-year sentence for burglaries.
His doctor believes he will die if he continues to refuse to take his medication, he says. During a recent prison interview, he is asked if he is willing to die. Yes, if theres no change, he responds. Im not going to be here with the treatment of people the way it is in the Supermax.

He says he has not taken his medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and asthma since last spring, when he was put in the Supermax for possessing banned tools that prison authorities said could be used in an escape attempt, but which he said were for fixing prisoners radios. His doctor could not be reached for comment.

Associate corrections commissioner Denise Lord says, We have a responsibility to provide appropriate physical and mental care, but prisoners have the right to refuse care. Ultimately, its their decision.

Sometimes Browns words of complaint are broad: That whole unit needs to be swept right out. Among his concerns is the arbitrariness of incarceration in the Supermax, which is supposed to confine escape risks, prisoners who are threats to themselves or others, and those who break rules by, for example, possessing contraband. Brown says a mere allegation by one prisoner can land another in the Supermax. Prison officials deny this.

Corrections Commissioner Magnusson, for his part, puts in a word of caution about Brown: He hasnt shared everything with you about his behavior, but says the state law barring disclosure of information on specific prisoners prevents him from giving more details.

Sometimes Browns demands are specific and personal. He wants his prison job back. He wants authorities to return his stereo, confiscated when he was put in the Supermax.

But usually Browns complaints reflect on general conditions in the Supermax, which are more severe and restrictive than in the rest of the prison. The Supermax doesnt distinguish between prisoners who are mentally ill and those who are disciplinary cases: One set of rules governs both.

Some prisoners in the Supermax motivated either by rage or protest throw their feces. Brown worries that those who do not engage in this behavior may have their food contaminated by those who do. He is asking, in effect, if confinement to the Supermax means being sentenced to eating potentially contaminated food.

When Brown was confined to the Supermax his toothbrush like that of others was taken away. Toothbrushes, allowed in the prisons general population, are among the everyday implements that are sometimes turned into weapons. Brown says that his inability to properly clean his teeth has given him severe periodontal disease.

The corrections department says food servers use clean gloves to protect servers and prisoners alike from contamination. For prisoners dental hygiene, the department also supplies Supermax prisoners with nubbled fingertip caps of the sort used for cleaning dogs teeth.

If the commissioner is seriously committed to reform, then he can do some small steps, Brown says.

But Brown also would like large steps to be taken. He has worked out a plan of how prisoners with challenging psychological conditions could be better separated from prisoners who are in solitary because they have been busted for having cigarettes.

The only change in the Supermax in four months since the commissioner publicly promised reform is its repainting, he says. He believes this was done because an American Correctional Association accreditation team was scheduled to visit.

Browns descriptions of the SMU on the Maine Supermax Watch Web site sparked the Phoenixs stories. He has taken flak from some guards because of his outspokenness, he says, but he seems well regarded in the prison.

Deane has been institutionalized all but three years since the age of six, a Rockland friend, Beth Berry, writes in an e-mail. Although he has been brutally victimized, he has never lost compassion for others being victimized. ... When the lights went out [in a prison power failure], he ran to a female guard and was struck by other inmates while he protected her. She quit and sent him a letter of thanks.

Another prisoner, Michael James, who also was interviewed in the fall and re-interviewed recently, agrees that Supermax conditions are much the same, and he has remained within the unit. He echoes Brown that the only change is the repainting. Impressing the ACA accreditation team was such a big deal for the prison, he says, that the guards threatened us up and down to behave when the team visited. But people still throw feces and all that, he says.

James, a man in his early 20s, is in the fifth year of a 12-year sentence for robbery, most of which time he has spent in the Supermax. His lawyer, Joseph Steinberger of Rockland, says, He hasnt been able to conform himself to their demands for behavior, as the reason he has spent so much time in the Supermax. He is disobedient. Hes mentally ill.

By many accounts including his own, James is very mentally disturbed. Possibly, he has spent more hours in the restraint chair than anyone else, though he says he has managed to stay out of it for four months.

Steinberger says hes not sure why, but Id like to believe as a result of the attention hes gotten the guards are less cruel to him. James has cited his responses to guards taunts in the past as one of the reasons he has ended up in the restraint chair.

James believes he should be treated at the states mental hospital in Augusta formerly called the Augusta Mental Health Institute, now Riverview Psychiatric Center. For people with mental troubles, the SMU segregation defeats its purpose, he says it just makes them act up more.

He says he protested to the district attorney who handles prison cases about harassment by guards. But nothing happened. I never heard nothing back from him.

The district attorneys office, however, is aware of James. He goes on trial in June in Rockland for six cases of felony assault against guards. Each conviction could result in up to five additional years in prison. His lawyer plans to present an insanity defense in an effort to have him committed to Riverview.

Of the other Supermax inmates interviewed in October, Charles Limanni and Norman Kehling are back in the regular prison, and Michael Chasse and Joseph Reeves are still in the hole, as the prisoners say.

MCLU Threatens To Sue

Meanwhile, others are pressing for change, from the outside.

On February 3, 2006, Carol Carothers, director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill: Maine, sent a copy of the Phoenixs Supermax series to the chairmen of the Legislatures Criminal Justice Committee, asking for a meeting to discuss treatment of mentally ill people at the Supermax.
Several states have enacted laws that prohibit placing inmates with mental illness in 23-hour lockdown because it exacerbates the illness and generally leads to increased time in prison, she said in an accompanying letter. (The prisoners have an hour for outdoor exercise five days a week, weather permitting.)

On February 9, 2006, representatives of the civil liberties union met with Magnusson, following up with a letter threatening a lawsuit if the Department of Corrections doesnt stop keeping mentally ill people in solitary confinement. We are all hopeful that a satisfactory solution can be found that will not require litigation, the MCLU wrote.

The letter also stated: The continued presence of any individuals with serious mental illness in the detention unit ... is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society. We are prepared to do whatever we can to help you bring this practice to an end, but end it must. The groups parent organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, has successfully sued to improve supermax conditions in other states.
On March 10, NAMIs Carothers met with the legislative committee and, in Magnussons presence, asked the department for data on solitary confinement, on the use of the restraint chair, and on the extent these practices involve mentally ill prisoners.

We need some good thinking about what is a better way than present Supermax practices, she told the committee. She felt the data would dictate what actions need to be taken. Magnusson said he would comply with her request.

The department already has said that, compared to other states, Maine has a high number of mentally ill people in the prison system. At the committee meeting, Magnusson estimated it was 40 percent. And the department has figures on restraint chair use. In 2003, 164 uses occurred; there were 205 in 2004 and 178 in 2005. In the first two months of 2006, however, the chair was used only five times, and only once in February (four of those five times by two prisoners).

Hovering in the background in the committee room was the MCLUs lawyer, Zachary Heiden. In an interview, he said his group believes solitary confinement of mentally ill prisoners constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the United States Constitution. The prisoners should be in an environment where their civil rights and dignity as human beings are respected, he said.

At this time the MCLU isnt in a High Noon showdown with the department, he said, and he was hopeful officials would be cooperative. Often, advocacy groups use the threat of a lawsuit to drive policy changes, reserving its filing as a last resort.

After the meeting, Senator John Nutting, a Democrat from Leeds, said the departments treatment of mentally ill people is inexcusable. Theyve balanced their budget on the backs of the mentally ill by not providing enough services for prisoners with mental problems. (But legislators for years have provided the Department of Corrections with tight budgets.)

I and other legislators will keep intense pressure on them to try to keep them from being sued by the MCLU, Nutting said, referring to the department.

Specific Reforms Promised

Magnusson appears eager to be cooperative with Supermax critics. He was when interviewed in October, and he appeared especially eager when he took the seat, immediately after Carothers, before the Criminal Justice Committee.

He told the legislators that, at a prison meeting on the preceding day, he had set up committees to report in 30 days on how to reform the Supermax by:

-Developing progressive rewards to obtain modifications of prisoner behavior, to move away from the present punitive approach. Magnusson mentioned the possible use of closed-circuit-television therapy programs in cells to help prisoners become cooperative. If they complete a course, they could be allowed, for example, to watch some sports programs.

-Training the staff in verbal ways to de-escalate confrontations with prisoners in an effort to reduce use of the restraint chair.

-Avoiding forced extractions from cells. He said this has been accomplished in Colorado through talk with prisoners and the threat of an irritant gas, OC, which he says is stronger than the pepper spray now used in the Supermax. [Editors Note: In states such as Florida pepper spray has replaced beatings as a means of abuse.]

In an interview, Magnusson says he also is having a committee look at the current culture in the Supermax to improve the working environment for the staff, their teamwork, and their communication with inmates.

A big step that could be taken, he says, sounds a lot like prisoner Deane Browns idea: open up a 16-cell Supermax pod now vacant and turn it into a treatment unit for some mentally ill prisoners. In it, they would not have to be kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. But were very tight on money, Magnusson notes.

He says he has been working toward reforms for several months. His decisions partially implement recommendations of a National Institute of Corrections consultant who came to Maine in December from the Colorado prison system to evaluate the SMU, at the commissioners invitation. National correctional officials hold up Colorados Supermax as a model in which violence in dealing with prisoners has been greatly reduced. Magnusson also sent six of his prison staff to the Colorado State Penitentiary to study its practices. He will rely on them they include two deputy wardens to work up details of how to change the Supermax. He says the staff is enthusiastic about making changes.

Guard Charged With Assault

One subtle change may have already occurred in the difficult prisoner-guard psychology of the Supermax. Guards could become more careful in their treatment of prisoners because, while prosecutions of prisoners for assaults on guards have been almost routine, for the first time in at least 25 years a guard is being prosecuted for an alleged assault on a prisoner.
In late December, after sitting on the case for over a year, Jeff Rushlau, the midcoast counties district attorney, charged former Supermax guard Darren Barbeau, of Benton, with using illegal force against prisoner Christopher Humphrey during a SMU extraction in November 2004. Rushlau also charged Barbeau and former guards Dennis Scott Plaisted, of Palermo, and Daniel Ross, of Woolwich, with falsifying evidence attempting to destroy a videotape of the extraction. The cases are awaiting trial in Superior Court in Rockland.

Prison warden Jeffrey Merrill says that when the tape was recovered and he saw what had happened, he fired two of the three men and notified the DA. He suspended the third, Daniel Ross, for a week. Ross still works at the prison.

In over 25 years of employment in the district attorneys office, as DA and as an assistant, Rushlau says he had never seen a prison guard prosecuted for assault on a prisoner. (Nationally, there are no figures on guard assaults on prisoners, correctional officials and critics agree.)

His delay in bringing the charges, he says, occurred because of his heavy workload and because he had to weigh the reality that guards are allowed under the law to use physical force on prisoners in certain circumstances.
Barbeau, in a telephone interview, admits taking the videotape cassette and pulling the ribbon out of it. He took the tape to an investigator two days later, he says, to defend himself against the prisoners accusation of using excessive force.

I made a mistake, he says of what he did with the tape. It wasnt the right thing to do.

He had taken it because other guards felt it was possibly incriminating, he says, adding that he hadnt even looked at it. It seemed like it was past practice, he says. Theyve gotten rid of tapes in the past.

His defense to the charge of assault, he says, is that prison policy on the use of force wasnt clear cut. There was no training at all in extractions, he says. They were throwing you to the wolves, speaking of the prison administration.

They tell you to go in and use whats necessary, he says, but they dont tell you how to do it.

Commissioner Magnusson says that there is training in cell extractions and that he is not aware of any other tapes destroyed.

From Barbeaus perspective, the episode that resulted in the assault charge was a regular extraction, he says, among the 40 to 50 in which he was involved during the year he worked at the Supermax.

Because of his size (six-foot-two and 270 pounds), he was often the man put on the shield, he says, the first of the six-man team to charge into a cell to subdue a prisoner. A former Augusta policeman, he was once a state arm-wrestling champion.

If convicted of assault, Barbeau could spend up to a year in the prison system where he once worked. He is charged with misdemeanor assault, which is why his potential sentence is less than the felony-assault sentences possible for prisoner Michael James. But a maximum one-year sentence is also possible if he is convicted of falsifying physical evidence.

Responses To The Articles

A lot of the staff was very upset about the previous Supermax articles, says Warden Merrill.

Indeed, guards past and present and their family members, wrote letters to the editor or in other ways expressed in detail how difficult it is for guards in their dangerous, low-paid jobs a subject they felt our series neglected. Most of the feedback received, however, was positive. Several prisoners, family members, and advocates for prisoners called and wrote pleading for coverage of injustices they believed had been done to prisoners other than those mentioned in the articles.

Yet as part of its accreditation process national ACA officials recently issued statements highly praising the prison. The Department of Corrections and Governor John Baldacci trumpeted them loudly in a press release it received a good deal of attention in the daily papers even though the prison still has another hoop of evaluation to go through before it actually receives accreditation.

I dont see how the facility can be accredited while this is going on, Senator Nutting says, referring to the Supermaxs treatment of mentally ill prisoners.

Skepticism exists in other quarters about ACA accreditation. PLN has reported extensively on the public relations nature of ACA accreditation.

Lance Tapley can be reached at This article was originally published as a three part series in the Portland Phoenix. It is reprinted here with permission.

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