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Maine Legislators Not Informed Of Murder At Secure Mental Health Unit Occurring Before Funding Vote

Members of the Maine Legislature voted to enlarge the Mental Health Unit at Maine State Prison's Supermax facility last August, doubling its size to 32 beds.  What they did not know when passing a bill to fund the expansion is that a brutal murder had occurred at the unit two months earlier.

Senator Margaret Craven, the head of the State's Health and Human Services Committee said she was "shocked" to learn of the murder when asked about it in November 2013, three months after voting to spend $1.4 million from Health and Human Services to the Department of Corrections for the expansion.  Other legislators also expressed surprise when informed of the murder.

Ironically, the bill that funded the expansion, LD 1515, was greatly aided by news of a well-publicized assault by a patient on a staff member at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.  Patients at Riverview will be sent to the Supermax unit if they commit a crime at the Psychiatric Center.

The expanded prison unit holds mentally ill prisoners being examined, evaluated, or treated, including those who have not yet been convicted.

Peter Stuckey, a Portland Democrat who had voted against LD 1515, said he had not heard about the murder, and sarcastically commented, "You mean the place we're sending these non-adjudicated people to get better?"

The man who committed the murder, Guy Hunnewell, 42, had already beaten another Mental Health Unit resident with a shovel; he allegedly murdered a second resident, Alan Powell, 57, by beating him to death with an electric guitar.  Both men were in prison for murder; Hunnewell received a life sentence in April 2014 for killing Powell.

Senator Craven asked how patients can be "stabilized" if such violence is permitted to occur at the Mental Health Unit.  Judy Garvey of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition shared the sense of wonder.  "How is it possible that Hunnewell had access to a shovel?  How is it possible he would have access to another weapon to allegedly kill Powell?"

Corrections Spokesman Scott Fish responded to questions about the safety of mentally-ill prisoners by saying only that the expanded unit would be run in a different way.

As to the Department of Corrections' failure to inform the Legislature of the June murder before the August funding vote, Associate Commissioner Jody Breton said it wasn't revealed because federal HIPAA medical-privacy laws prohibited its disclosure.  Still, Dr. Andrea Weisman, a clinical psychologist who 10 years ago was a federal court expert who helped design Riverview's forensic services, said, "I know of no HIPAA regulation that would prevent the disclosure of where an incident occurred within a facility, even if that were on the Mental Health Unit."


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