Weekly Legislative Update by Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco): Overview of Kennebec County Jail, Riverview Pyschiatric Center

Posted on January 24, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

This week, Representative Justin Chenette, now serving in his second term, recorded his first video legislative update and kindly gave permission to share:

As he remarked within the clip, some of the members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee has started to tour some of the state’s correctional facilities. His observations of the Kennebec County Jail and Riverview Psychiatric Center are below.

    “What an eye-opening experience. Sometimes you just don’t realize the negative sides of society until you see it firsthand (and this was just a narrow focus). Alongside Sen. Linda Valentino and York County Sheriff Bill King, we toured the Kennebec County Correctional Facility and Riverview Psychiatric Center to ask questions and actually witness some of the issues plaguing our criminal justice system and mental health facilities. Just a few quick takeaways based on my initial observations:

    Sen. Linda Valentino, York County Sheriff Bill King and Rep. Justin Chenette at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility in Augusta

    Sen. Linda Valentino, York County Sheriff Bill King and Rep. Justin Chenette at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility in Augusta

    At the jail, we met a group of women in an innovative program to help actually rehabilitate their lives while in the system. Focusing on support and getting individuals to change their lives for when they get out is better than just sitting in jail awaiting a return to a life that is not only a determent to themselves but the safety of those around them. Gave me hope that we could use it as a model in other facilities, but much like anything else has been reduced and limited due to a lack of funding. Learned the state has over 21 well-organized gangs. Jail officials have to put special care in where they place certain inmates from rival gangs or violence is extremely heightened. The overcrowding problem was apparent, but partly the issue is so many mentally-ill individuals end up being housed there after ping ponging within the system that the jails have become ill-equipped to handle the influx; not to mention the increased need for proper treatment and care that the jails really can’t provide effectively.

    We visited the high risk part of Riverview that tends to have the most attention about patients attacking staff. I have to admit I was a little nervous about being there especially after we were briefed on the protocols in case patients went on a rampage in our presence who were only an arms length away. The staff have a high level of frustration with CMS and the lack of legal willingness or adaptiveness to policies that could enable the facility to be more hands on in restraining ‘patients’ that cause significant physical harm to nurses and others while at the same time not wanting to become something other than a hospital. It seems like the lines between corrections and high risk mental health treatment though are blurring and clashing at the same time.

    As you may have seen in the media, issues surrounding our county jails and corrections system will be hot button topics as we navigate challenges of overcrowding, control, and funding. Not to mention a huge monkey wrench from the Governor in not appointing members to the Board of Corrections out of protest. Without a quorum for the board, it’s almost impossible to tackle the $2.5 million shortfall until a resolution is settled from the Governor’s Office or we find a way around him. More tours are being planned with my Criminal Justice Committee over the course of the next few weeks to continue collecting needed information from boots on the ground rather than just those at the very top.”

Link here to Chenette’s website for signing up for future updates.

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