Prison warden fired without warning, interim managers named
Warren — Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte walked into the office of Maine State Prison Warden Patricia Barnhart in Warren on the morning of Jan. 10 and fired her on the spot without warning or explaining the cause, according to union representative Jim Mackie of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
"She had no idea this was coming at her," he said.
Despite repeated calls to the Department of Corrections Jan. 10, the department has not released any information about the firing. Associate Commissioner Jody Breton said only that she could not comment on a personnel matter.
Ralph Nichols from the department and Rodney Bouffard of the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland will be in charge of the prison for the next six months, Mackie said.
Mackie said he received word that Ponte was wandering around the prison shortly before the commissioner walked into Barnhart's office and fired her. She was forced to leave immediately.
"What he did to the warden was a classic example of his management style," Mackie said.
"We're assuming he's not done yet," Mackie said. He believes more jobs will be lost in the department.
Mackie said the prison and the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren, which Barnhart also headed, recently received a perfect score in a national prison accreditation, making the firing surprising.
He described her as a consummate professional.
"Our hope is that she gets a good lawyer and goes after this guy," he said.
He said he looks forward to the time when the commissioner says publicly why he fired her.
Barnhart was at the center of a controversy in 2011 after the state sold her three homes and property on Ship Street Circle in Thomaston.
In June of that year, Barnhart and Sheehan Gallagher paid $175,000 to the state to buy the Ship Street Circle parcel. The property, adjacent to the former Maine State Prison land, was used for years by the prison system to provide housing for employees. The state later bought the properties back after it was determined the sale was not allowed under law because she was a state employee.
Mackie said he does not believe the firing had anything to do with the land deal. He said if that was it, it would have taken place when the controversy happened.
The warden's firing comes on the heels of news that The Central Maine Pre-Release Center in Hallowell will be closed and its 58 prisoners transferred to the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren. The department said Jan. 10 it will provide other jobs for the 21 employees at the Hallowell facility.
Mackie said the closure was announced with no public hearing. He said it will have an impact on the community where the pre-release prisoners work. He said the food bank in the area will be devastated by the loss of prisoner labor.