The court master in charge of protecting the rights of certain mentally ill patients in Maine has filed a court recommendation that the LePage administration halt a plan to hire an out-of-state contractor for a new psychiatric facility in Bangor.

The so-called step-down facility is under construction, and the LePage administration is negotiating with Correct Care Solutions, a private contractor from Tennessee, to operate it.

Attorney Daniel Wathen, the court master and a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, filed a recommendation in Kennebec County Superior Court arguing that spending about $5 million per year in consent decree funds is in violation of the decree. The 1990 decree was designed to protect patients who were at the since-closed Augusta Mental Health Institute, but it also applies to patients at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.

The new step-down facility, also called the Secure Residential Treatment Facility, would be for patients transitioning out of Riverview into community-based programs, such as group homes.

“The department’s plan to utilize consent decree funds to support the operation of the Secure Residential Treatment Facility in Bangor is at odds with and contravenes the appropriations made by the Maine Legislature,” Wathen wrote in the court filing. “In addition it violates the provisions of the consent decree and the consent decree plan adopted in 2006 with respect to the provision of core community mental health services.

“I formally recommend that the department neither encumber nor expend any consent decree funds to support any agreement for the operation of the Secure Forensic Residential Treatment Facility. It is my recommendation that such funds continue to be used for the purposes for which they were appropriated – core community mental health services for those ineligible for MaineCare.”

This story will be updated.