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The nighttime transfer of some 200 prisoners was a response to "serious and deepening problems" with inmate behavior, the Maine Department of Corrections says.

"We had to deal with some of these gang leaders, strong-armers and drug traffickers," said Denise Lord, associate corrections commissioner.

Thirty-five inmates from the Maine State Prison in Warren were exchanged with a like number from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, according to Commissioner Martin Magnusson. The remainder were shifted to different locations within the Warren and Windham prisons.

The moves began at 6 p.m. Tuesday and were completed at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, and inmates were bused between units under armed escort by state police.

"We were getting backed up and just didn't have any place to put the problem-behavior prisoners," said Lord, who attributed the problem to crowded conditions that were compromising the department's ability to move inmates within the Warren prison.

The crowding has contributed to gang activity and drug trafficking as well as increasing numbers of assaults and instances of extortion.

"We needed to deal with problematic behavior that, if you don't deal with (it), you lose control of the facility," Lord said.

On the day of the inmate moves, the Knox County grand jury indicted four Maine State Prison inmates on various charges, including assault.

Maine State Prison has 916 beds, including 100 in its maximum-security unit. The Maine Correctional Center has 500 beds. All but a couple of dozen inmates are Maine prisoners.

Warren's maximum-security unit, which is typically used to discipline troublemakers, was at capacity because inmates under threat from others were being held there for their own protection. Some of those under threat were shifted from the segregation unit to Windham.

Lord said the department was forced to act quickly to bring the problem under control.
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