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Corrections Commissioner Fires Maine State Prison Warden
01/10/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins
Patricia Barnhart, Former Maine State Prison Warde

After serving as warden of the Maine State Prison for the past three years, Patricia Barnhart was dismissed from her position today by state Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte for reasons that are still unclear. State officials in the corrections department and the governor's office said they could comment on the personnel matter, but the two chairs of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee said Ponte notified them Monday that a management change at the prison was pending.

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It was supposed to be an introductory meeting between the two new Democratic chairs of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and state Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte. On Monday, Ponte told Committee House Chair Mark Dion of Portland to prepare for a change in management at the Maine State Prison and asked for that confidence to be respected until Warden Patricia Barnhart was notified. He did not say why.

"I respect the fact that the personnel process is confidential and that certain rules have to be taken care of and I was satisfied that the commissioner had communicated the possibility that that was going to occur," Dion said.

State Sen. Stan Gerzovsky of Brunswick attended the same meeting and he said he was satisfied that the LePage administration had given the Legislature some forewarning that the woman who oversees operation at the state's largest corrections facility with a little more than 900 inmates would be moving on.

"We're always brought up to speed when we have major job shifts and job transfers and those things and I believe that we did have ample notice that there was going to be some movement," Gerzovsky said.

The administration, corrections officials and Barnhart herself declined to comment on the dismissal that took some lawmakers by surprise. State Sen. Anne Haskell, a Portland Democrat, said as a former longtime member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee she was unaware of any recent disagreements Barnhart may have had with Ponte. IN ADDITION HASKELL said BARNHART was generally respected by the legislative panel.

"I had an excellent working relationship with Warden Barnhart, she had been very responsive to the commmittee," Haskell said. "She had been responsive and helpful on visits I had made to the prison, particularly I worked with her on a hospice for prisoners program up there and was very pleased with her interest and her help on that program."

"I know all the wardens at all the prisons and she was very pleasant to work with," Gerzovsky said. "She would come in front of the committee, present her budget and talk to us about any concerns that she had, we would be up there on tours and she would always participate, she seemed knowledgeable."

Dion said Ponte is scheduled to meet with the committee Monday.

"So I imagine that we will probably hear about in detail there, if not there, then at least in our office with the commissioner," Dion said.

Barnhart was hired as Maine State Prison warden in 2009, replacing Jeff Merrill.

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