Governor LePage Wants To Put Mental Health Patients In Prison

By Keri Blakinger 02/03/16

Advocates are condemning LePage's latest ridiculous plan, which aims to criminalize mental illness. 

Paul LePage

The Maine governor, Paul LePage, drew criticism this week when he proposed putting mental health patients into the state’s prison system, according to the Bangor Daily News.

The state-run psych facility in Augusta—Riverview Psychiatric Center—has run into problems after it was decertified by the feds in 2013. It’s also been plagued by staffing shortages that could put patients and staff at risk. 

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services said that the proposal would entail transferring the more violence-prone mental health patients to a 32-bed psych unit at the state prison in Warren. The thing is, those mental health patients aren’t necessarily guilty of any crimes. In some cases, they’d be individuals who were specifically deemed unfit for trial due to mental health issues—yet they’d still be thrown in prison anyway. 

Rep. Drew Gattine, a Democrat, opposed the suggestion, noting it was “almost certainly” a violation of patients’ civil rights. 

“People who have mental illness need to be treated in a health facility, not a correctional facility,” he said.

“We cannot take people who are not criminally responsible and put them in the criminal justice system,” said NAMI Executive Director Jenna Mehnert. “We cannot do it — morally, legally, rationally.”

This is not LePage’s first time making an utterly idiotic suggestion. 

In January, he made headlines when he said that drug dealers come from out of state to impregnate young “white” girls in Maine before leaving. He claimed that the state’s drug problem is caused by “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” who come to the Pine Tree State to sell drugs and knock up women. 

A couple weeks later, he raised a few eyebrows when he seemingly suggested that Maine residents should rid the state of drug dealers by shooting them, according to the Portland Press Herald.

“I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry,” he said. “Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they’re killing our kids.”

He claimed he wasn’t actually supporting vigilante justice, but those comments came the same week he told a Bangor radio station that Maine should bring back the guillotine to punish drug dealers. Currently, Maine doesn’t have the death penalty, but LePage said he’d like to bring it back, essentially as a weapon in the War on Drugs. 

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.