ELLSWORTH — Hancock County Jail inmates this past spring lost access to a recovery coaching service provided by Healthy Acadia after Sheriff Scott Kane canceled the contract due to what he described as “philosophical differences” with the organization.
Kane canceled the contract after Healthy Acadia issued a June 10 statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“That decision was made in the height of the rioting and the looting and the burning that Black Lives Matter was associated with,” Kane said. “My responsibility as a police officer is to keep people safe. Those types of protests, when they turn violent, nobody’s safe.”
The Black Lives Matter movement dates back to 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old in Florida, according to The Economist. That acquittal prompted activist Alicia Garza to post on social media, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter, Black Lives Matter.” The movement has since grown and there were nationwide protests after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis last year.
The jail is still offering recovery services to inmates, Kane said. They include counseling, a medically-assisted treatment program and Eastern Maine Development Corp.’s workforce program.
Healthy Acadia’s June 10 statement said, “We stand together with Black Lives Matter.” A portion of the rest of the statement is as follows:
“George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Tony McDade. We say their names as we grieve their tragic, unjust killings. We say their names to honor their memories and lives – lives that matter, deeply. We say their names knowing that countless others – known and unknown – have faced and continue to face discrimination, harm, and death at the hands of systemic racism and police brutality. And we say their names as we reaffirm and deepen our commitment to address the longstanding injustices that prevent people – particularly Black people and others of color – from living lives with safety, health, and well-being.
We at Healthy Acadia are dedicated to working together with individuals and organizations to build healthy communities for all. We are dedicated to responding to community needs and addressing the many barriers to public health. And we know that one of the most devastating barriers to health is racism. We know this not only because we witness the devastating impacts of police brutality on Black, Indigenous and Latinx lives, but also because we see the tragic impacts of discrimination and racism on social determinants of health and health outcomes.”
Twelve days later, after hearing Kane’s concerns, Healthy Acadia issued a new statement, adding the following:
“We wholeheartedly support the statement published jointly by the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, the Maine Sheriffs Association, the Maine Prosecutors Association and the Maine Department of Public Safety. One passage states: ‘There is no place for racism and police brutality in Maine or in our country. Maine law enforcement officers can and must do better. We cannot change what happened, but we can look inward and forward.’ We applaud the law enforcement officials in our region and throughout Maine who are committed to opposing racism, and we thank them for their dedicated service and sacrifices to support, serve and protect our communities.”
That was not sufficient to sway Kane.
“People don’t seem to understand or want to understand, I’m not a racist person,” Kane said. “But Black Lives Matter, that organization, wants to harm law enforcement.”
“I’m not dumping on Healthy Acadia,” Kane said. “They’ve done and are doing some wonderful things.”
The sheriff said he advised the Hancock County Commissioners ahead of time about his decision to cancel the service.
“I told the commissioners at a public meeting what I was doing,” Kane said.
But the board would not have had to take any vote.
Maine statute dictates that Hancock County Jail operations fall under the sheriff’s purview, according to County Administrator Scott Adkins.
When reached for an interview, Elsie Flemings, executive director of Healthy Acadia, sent a statement via email. A portion of it is as follows:
“When we heard from Sheriff Kane that he was offended by our statement, we listened,” wrote Flemings. “We realized that, as written, the original statement could have been interpreted as expressing support for specific policy recommendations that were emerging from the Black Lives Matter organization, and this was not our intention in making the statement. We adjusted our statement to better reflect the position we hold: we affirmed that the lives of Black people matter and that we stand against all forms of violence and hate.”
“We were deeply saddened by Sheriff Kane’s decision in June to suspend our services in the Hancock County Jail,” Flemings stated. “We had hoped, and still hope, to find a way forward in order to continue to serve our community members who are suffering from substance use disorders in jail. We also remain firmly committed to the hard work of addressing racism and advancing racial and health equity.”
Recovery coaches, according to Flemings, provide an opportunity for inmates to develop an action plan for their release as well as work on their recovery.
“The recovery coach serves as a resource broker, a mentor, a guide, a role model, an advocate and a motivator, helping to support the individual along their recovery journey,” Flemings said.
Kane said he has found a new vendor to provide recovery coaching services and expects that to resume shortly.