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Three years and counting

The Portland Phoenix' s prison scoops keep piling up
By PORTLAND PHOENIX STAFF  |  November 5, 2008


"Falling down: Mistreatment of Maine prison guards lands heavily on inmates," by Lance Tapley
For the past three years, Portland Phoenix contributing writer Lance Tapley has been the only reporter in Maine to pay attention to the appalling conditions suffered by inmates in the Maine State Prison, and particularly those in its solitary-confinement Supermax unit, who are often left untreated for mental illnesses and subjected to torture.

Below we summarize some highlights of the series, which has won state, regional, and national honors.

"TORTURE IN MAINE'S PRISON" | NOVEMBER 11, 2005 | The story that started it all — complete with a video of prison guards dragging an inmate from his cell, naked and screaming, down a hall and immobilizing him in a "restraint chair."

"REFORMING THE SUPERMAX" | NOVEMBER 18, 2005 | Activists and officials agree: punishment doesn't work, when it comes to reducing recidivism. Teaching, training, counseling — those are what work to improve prisoners' behavior both in prison and after their release. Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson promises to do better.

"PRESSURE RISING" | MARCH 24, 2006 | Magnusson pledges to legislators that reform is his "top priority," as objections rise from lawmakers, inmates, guards, and activist organizations that little action has been taken.

"DEATH IN THE SUPERMAX" | OCTOBER 13, 2006 | Ryan Rideout, a severely mentally ill inmate, kills himself in his Supermax cell; prison officials claim they did not consider him a suicide risk, despite three highly publicized suicide attempts during a three-week period in 2004.

"BALDACCI'S 'POLITICAL PRISONER' | NOVEMBER 24, 2006 | In retaliation for his outspoken complaints about prison conditions, Democratic Governor John Baldacci and his administration order Supermax inmate Deane Brown shipped to a Supermax in Maryland, whose prison system is run by a former Maine associate corrections commissioner, to keep him away from the Maine media.

"LOCKDOWN: WHAT DO PRISON OFFICIALS HAVE TO HIDE?" | DECEMBER 15, 2006 | Deane Brown's situation is further detailed, including accounts of harassment and intimidation by prison officials. Further investigation is hampered by new prison restrictions on inmate interviews with the press, including a demand that prison officials be allowed to monitor interviews and confiscate reporters' notes.

"SLUGGISH RESPONSE TO SUICIDE" | JANUARY 5, 2007 | Inmates who witnessed Rideout's suicide reveal that the guard who discovered him hanging in his cell mocked him, saying "You can do better than that," and delayed sounding an alarm.

"AN INSULT TO JUSTICE" | FEBRUARY 2, 2007 | Lance Tapley's speech upon receiving the Maine State Bar Association's Excellence in Legal Journalism Award, in which he asks all lawyers in the state to step forward in defense not only of prisoners in Guantanamo, but those in Maine.

"PUNISH THE MENTALLY ILL!" | APRIL 13, 2007 | Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe and his staff try to pass a law that would require severely mentally ill prisoners — those adjudged not criminally responsible because of their illnesses — serve out their sentences in prison before receiving mental-health treatment.

"PRISONERS AS COMMODITIES" | APRIL 27, 2007 | Baldacci proposes sending Maine inmates to a privately run, for-profit prison in Oklahoma. After this article appeared, Baldacci withdrew his plan.

"MAINE PRISON BOSSES VIOLATE COURT ORDERS" | JUNE 29, 2007 | State corrections officials have violated at least two of three 35-year-old federal court orders protecting prisoners' rights, including allowing them access to the press. Long forgotten by both Corrections and the attorney general's office, we uncovered these orders, which are still in force today.

"A SUPERMAX 'GRADUATE" | JULY 13, 2007 | A man who admitted killing three people during a robbery was recently released from the Maine Supermax, and while incarcerated had begged prison officials for medicine and counseling, but was denied. The governor blames the mentally ill man, and not the system that failed to treat him.

"STABBED IN THE BACK" | SEPTEMBER 14, 2007 | Baldacci and corrections officials reward a prison snitch who saved the lives of inmates, guards, and civilians by spoiling an escape plot — by sending him to one of the country's most dangerous prisons, and by failing to honor their pledge to protect his life and his identity.

"WAVE OF REFORM" | FEBRUARY 8, 2008 | Activists and politicians alike find themselves with the opportunity to overhaul Maine's prison system. But the governor still stands in the way.

"IMPRISONED FACTS" | MAY 30, 2008 | The first unmonitored interview with inmates in 18 months reveals that prison officials either don't understand or intentionally misrepresent prison conditions to shore up their reluctance to treat inmates humanely. And the Corrections Department remained steadfastly opposed to allowing media access to inmates, despite the court orders — and the principles of good government.

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Related: Letters to the Portland Editor, November 14, 2008, Lockdown, Arbitrary imprisonment, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Criminal Sentencing and Punishment, Health and Fitness, Hold Maine,  More more >
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