The head of Maine’s Department of Corrections on Tuesday acknowledged criticism that his department’s draft proposal for new discipline rules for inmates may be too vaguely written.

Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick said that he is now considering the feedback, and that the final draft of the proposed rules may be “very different” from the current draft.

Fitzpatrick responded a day after a public hearing in Augusta on his department’s proposal at which 19 speakers unanimously opposed the draft rules. Many of the speakers said they believe the proposals would overly limit inmates’ ability to communicate with the outside world.

“When the final product is approved, it may be very different from what it is now,” Fitzpatrick said. “There may be pieces I disagree with. I pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work.”

The proposed rules mostly seek to amend existing policy for adult and juvenile inmates related to commonly prohibited acts such as destruction of property, fighting, displaying gang symbols and possessing contraband.

But they include policies related to inmates’ ability to communicate with each other and outsiders, such as bans on interacting with the news media, soliciting or communicating with a pen pal, passing or receiving written communication without authorization, and social networking.

The people who spoke during Monday’s public hearing at the department’s central office in Augusta included former inmates, family members of inmates, mental health representatives, a former prison guard, a legislator, a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and a member of the NAACP of Maine, as well as other activists.

Many focused on a proposed pen pal rule, questioning who would qualify as a pen pal and who would not. Jenna Mehnert, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine, said she worried that the pen pal proposal would block inmates from reaching out to her organization for mental health guidance.

“I do think it wasn’t written in a way that was clear enough,” Fitzpatrick said.

Neither Fitzpatrick nor any of the associate commissioners attended the public hearing.

Fitzpatrick also acknowleged that although the Attorney General’s Office advised him not to comment on the proposed rules while they are still in a draft, he believes it is important to explain his philosophy regarding policy making.

“I’m going to pay attention to the feedback. I may not buy into everything in the feedback, but I will pay attention to it,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said he is reviewing recorded testimony from Monday’s hearing and reading written testimony as it is submitted, and has begun meeting with some parties, such as the ACLU of Maine, to address specific concerns.

People can submit further comment on the proposed changes in writing to the department until Nov. 6.

Fitzpatrick said he expects to have a final proposed draft of the rules changes by late November or early December to submit to the Attorney General’s Office for review.

Timothy Feeley, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said last week that his department will review the proposals after the public input period, and then respond. The Attorney General’s Office must approve the proposals for “form and legality” before they can be finalized.


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