Lawmakers to probe prison

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  April 8, 2009

In yet another suit in federal court against the prison, HIV-infected inmate Raymond Leavitt is claiming unconstitutional "cruel and unusual punishment" because of insufficient medical care, including many months without treatment despite his numerous written protestations. The court recently refused to dismiss his claims, with Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk describing the prison's response to Leavitt's situation as "deliberately indifferent" and his case "disturbing."

NAACP leader's treatment reviewed
Until he was transferred under curious circumstances to the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, inmate Michael Parker was the head of the state-prison branch of the NAACP. Both he and former guard Rhonda Dawson, also an African-American, have accused prison staffers of racism — part of what Dawson calls a "culture of abuse" taught to guards by prison management (see "Time for a Clean Sweep?," by Lance Tapley, July 25, 2008.) Parker's complaints are now being reviewed in the governor's office, according to NAACP Portland branch president Rachel Talbot Ross.

Last summer, prison officials — responding to Baldacci-administration budget cuts — clamped down on inmate organizations with a written "directive" restricting the number of meetings and the scope of group activities. These rules hit the NAACP hardest because it's the prisoners' most active group, with about 70 members. The organization's leaders felt the new restrictions hampered their development of a promising rehabilitation program for all inmates. Parker, an articulate activist, had been for some time protesting the way he and other NAACP members were treated by some of the institution's staff, saying they suffered harassment including racial slurs.

In December, the NAACP's Portland branch brought to the prison the group's new national president, Ben Jealous, to discuss these issues with Commissioner Magnusson and prison officials, along with Parker and other NAACP members. Magnusson agreed to revisit the new policies, with a January 15 deadline for him to submit revisions to the NAACP for its consideration. Admitting that "inappropriate action" had been taken against Parker, Magnusson said he would make sure prison staff treated him fairly. (See "NAACP Leader Challenges Maine Prison Policies," by Lance Tapley, December 12, 2008.)

On January 15, however, instead of providing Parker with a new prison-organization policy to look at, the prison abruptly shipped him to the state's other main lockup, in Windham. Ross calls the transfer "punitive." She believes "institutional racism" exists at the Maine State Prison.

Ross says that she met with Magnusson in February to discuss what happened to Parker and that the governor's office agreed to review his treatment.

After Parker's transfer, the prison did produce a modified directive, she says, and the document is now the subject of negotiations between the NAACP and Corrections. Ross sees progress in the negotiations.

The governor's office would not comment on Parker's complaints or even confirm the review. Associate commissioner Lord says Parker was transferred to Windham because he qualified for the transfer, the Windham institution being less restrictive, and he had asked for a transfer in 2008.

Other complaints heard
As a result of our three-year-long prison series, the Phoenix receives quite a lot of phone calls, e-mail, and mail from prisoners, their families, guards, former guards, and others. With allegations and complaints ranging from the beating of prisoners by guards and a fist fight between guards in front of prisoners, to sexual abuse of a guard by guards, to tampering with prisoner mail and excessive fees for families to accept phone calls from prisoners, it seems likely OPEGA and the Government Oversight Committee will have plenty to investigate.

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