2018-02-15 / Editorial

Governor right to close prison

The Right Side
by Mike Coleman

Last week the Maine Department of Corrections transferred the 63 remaining inmates from the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport to Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston. This cost cutting move should save state taxpayers about $5 million annually. Predictably even Republicans in the Washington County legislative delegation protested the move and escalated an ongoing feud with Gov. Paul LePage.

The annual cost to house an inmate at Downeast had risen to more than $80,000 due to a shrinking population of minimum security inmates assigned to that facility. This is far above what it costs at Mountain View. It was long known that this prison was redundant, especially after upgrades were made to the Mountain View facility. Downeast is in a remote part of the state, far away from where most of the offenders lived prior to their convictions.

Minimum security prisons are the correctional facilities housing inmates who will be returning to society. These offenders are not the worst of the worst. These facilities in the correctional system have several important goals and objectives. One is to keep outside society safe from the offenders while they serve their sentences. The punishment aspect of incarceration may serve as a deterrent to others who might engage in similar conduct to the inmates housed in our correctional system. Another important objective is to rehabilitate the inmates. Helping them to learn a useful skill decreases the likelihood of them returning to prison. Reducing recidivism is a vital goal for any correctional system. Regularly seeing visitors while in prison does help inmates remain connected to their families and reduces the chance of them reoffending when released. Mountain View is more centrally located and reduces the burden on families who wish to see a loved one who is incarcerated. Having multiple facilities duplicating services is wasteful and increases the cost to our state for the services these inmates need for rehabilitation.

After the move, a spokesman for the union representing the Downeast staff said, “They did this under the cover of darkness.” These emotionally charged words were obviously calculated to put the LePage administration in a bad light. Unfortunately, it was impossible to warn employees of Downeast prior to the move of these inmates. Word would have leaked out. For the safety of staff, inmates and the public it is best that a big move like this catch inmates by surprise. If they had advance notice it is quite possible that inmates would have had the opportunity to plot some type of resistance. The move was made prior to dawn when most inmates would be not fully awake. The move was successful. No injuries were reported due to the move.

It is regrettable that 39 staff members will lose their jobs, at least temporarily. It is important to note that some are eligible for retirement. Some of these employees may exercise their right under their contract to “bump” another state employee in the same job classification.

Washington County in general is an economically depressed area. It needs more manufacturing and would benefit from investment incentive programs by the state to foster private investment. Whether or not a prison stays open will not make or break the economy there.

Gov. LePage was right to close the Downeast Correctional Facility. State taxpayers are winners here as are the inmates.

Mike Coleman is a former town councilor in Old Orchard Beach and was a member of the Maine Republican State Committee from 2010 through 2017 where he served as budget chairman under three separate state chairmen. He represented Maine at the Republican National Convention as an alternate in 2012. He recently left the Republican Party and became an Independent.

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