Hunnewell was placed with Powell despite being charged last winter with an attack in the Mental Health Unit on another inmate there, Jay Brensinger, 28, who was hit over the head with a shovel.

“The prison was well aware of Hunnewell’s mental-health problems and should have protected Alan Powell from him,” said Judy Garvey of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition. ”How is it possible Hunnewell had access to a shovel? How is it possible that he would then have another weapon to allegedly kill Powell?”

Responding to questions about the safety of mentally ill prisoners, Corrections spokesman Scott Fish said the expanded unit would be run in a different way, though he “wouldn’t say” it would be safer than the Mental Health Unit
currently is.

After some delay by Corrections in answering why legislators weren’t informed about the murder site — the department had informed several legislators that a murder had taken place — Jody Breton, an associate commissioner, said it wasn’t revealed because federal HIPAA medical-privacy law prohibited that. (HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.)

In an email defending her department, which prosecutes murders, for not informing legislators where the prison murder took place, Attorney General Mills said “state officials would not be at liberty to comment on any inmate’s medical/mental health services or on the investigative details of an alleged murder.”

Prosecutors commonly reveal, however, where murders occur. And several national-level experts consulted by the Phoenix said HIPAA is not as far-reaching as Maine officials claim. “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,” said Andrea Weisman, of Washington DC, a clinical psychologist who 10 years ago was a federal-court expert helping design Riverview’s forensic services.

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