Lawmakers to probe prison

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  April 8, 2009

Medical services questioned
The prison medical services that will be under review have long been controversial, especially the psychiatric care. The "deinstitutionalization" of mental patients from state hospitals over a 30-year period has resulted in Corrections becoming one of the state's largest providers of services to the mentally ill — the department says 40 percent of the state prison's inmates receive psychotropic medications. Critics say its services are dangerously inadequate. Much of the medical care is supplied by Correctional Medical Services, a large, for-profit corporation criticized in other states for providing poor-quality care.

A major "service" provided to mentally ill inmates is their placement in the solitary-confinement cells of the 100-man "Supermax" or Special Management Unit. Then, when they become even more mentally ill — as a result of solitary confinement, critics say — some are moved to the prison's 32-bed psychiatric unit — and then, often, back to the Supermax.

A particularly tragic episode involving this revolving door occurred on October 5, 2006, when 24-year-old Ryan Rideout, in prison for burglary, hanged himself in his Supermax cell. Rideout was one of the most notorious mental patients in Maine, having stopped traffic in downtown Bangor three times in three weeks in 2004 by threatening to jump to his death from one of the city's highest buildings. Documents in a federal suit brought against the state by his family say he had tried to commit suicide in prison twice before and quote prisoners in his Supermax cellblock describing how a guard allegedly taunted him to kill himself. Yet after his death the prison warden denied Rideout was a suicide risk. (For more allegations about the guards' actions at the time of his death, see "State Sued over Inmate's Death," by Lance Tapley, March 7, 2008.)

The Rideout family's suit contends that, despite the recommendation of prison psychiatrist Dr. Christopher Marra that the young man be kept in the psychiatric wing, officials, including Maureen Rubano, a prison psychologist, allowed him to be placed in the Supermax. The suit also says he was taken off needed psychotropic medications. The rationale for his Supermax placement, according to the complaint, is that a mental-health worker felt threatened by him.

In another federal suit, a former prison inmate, Tino Marino, of Bangor, who has a history of mental illness, claims that while in Warren in 2006 he was traumatized by being forced by a prison sergeant, James O'Farrell Jr., and other guards to grab his genitals through his pants and march down a cellblock holding himself in view of other inmates and a female guard.

Marino, who was in prison for drug trafficking, is suing O'Farrell and other prison staff, some of whom he claims beat him and tore up his legal papers in an attempt to stop his protests against his treatment. In a parallel to the Rideout case, Marino says psychiatrist Marra had recommended he be treated in the psychiatric wing, but that Rubano countermanded this recommendation.

Marino told the Phoenix that he suffers from panic attacks and nightmares because of his treatment at the prison, where he repeatedly cut himself and once tried to commit suicide, he says. O'Farrell, the son of Deputy Warden James O'Farrell, no longer works at the prison. The Phoenix has tried unsuccessfully to reach him, Rubano, and Marra (who now works in California).

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  Topics: News Features , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, John Baldacci,  More more >
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