The mentally ill, criminalized

Common nonsense
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  September 11, 2008

Despite a Superior Court order committing Michael James, a severely mentally ill inmate of the Maine State Prison, to the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, authorities in July yanked James back to the prison’s harsh, solitary-confinement Supermax unit. He had spent much of a lengthy sentence for robbery there, continually assaulting guards and smashing his head against his cell’s concrete walls.

In his year at Riverview’s forensic unit, James, 25, seemed to be doing much better. But after he had several lapses, including hurting another patient and shoving a staff person, he was taken to the Warren prison. On September 3, he pleaded guilty to two counts of assault. Sentencing for the felonies has been continued “pending further studies” of his mental state, says Evert Fowle, Kennebec County district attorney.

“I don’t think he should have pled guilty,” says James’s mother, Robin Dearborn, 43, of Mechanic Falls. She is afraid he will continue to be kept in the Supermax, which will make him worse, she says.

Dearborn would like James’s court-appointed attorney, Mitchell Flick, to explain what is happening to her son, but he has not responded to her phone calls. Flick also did not respond to calls from the Phoenix.

James appears to be trapped. He has a history of getting worse in prison, but a violent lapse at the hospital is considered criminal, and so he goes back to prison.

Dearborn managed to see her son at the prison on September 7. He told her he had been stripped naked and beaten. State authorities will not discuss James.

But the state Corrections Department now has James where they have always wanted to have him. In 2006 a Knox County jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity of 10 assaults on prison guards. The judge committed him to Riverview. Corrections, however, on advice from the Attorney General’s office, refused to follow the judge’s order, arguing he first had to serve the nine years remaining on his sentence (see “Arbitrary Imprisonment,” by Lance Tapley, July 21, 2006). In 2007 the judge, after much legal wrestling, finally forced the department to put James in the hospital.

But Corrections appealed the judge’s order. In July, Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court agreed with James that he should remain at Riverview. It agreed with the state, though, that his criminal sentence should be suspended while there. So the best James could hope for was to be cured at Riverview — perhaps taking years — and then be sent back to prison to serve out his full sentence. But now, whether he will ever get back to Riverview is very much in doubt.

Related: The trials of Bernard Baran, William Lemmer: Coming home, Death penalty possible for Watland, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Health and Fitness, Criminal Sentencing and Punishment, Mental Health,  More more >
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