Concerns After Maine Prison Closure

A community in Downeast Maine is running out of options to keep a prison, and its jobs, in the area.

Governor Paul LePage abruptly shut down the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport last week. He said at $5 million annually, the prison was becoming too expensive to operate, and in the middle of the night, sent buses to pick up inmates and gave pink slips to employees.

"I am the Chief Executive of the state of Maine," said the governor the day after the closure. "I saw an opportunity to save the state money."

Dozens of employees are without work, and surrounding businesses are now short-staffed without inmate labor.

"I feel how LePage did it was wrong, very wrong," said Megan Galligin, a Machias resident concerned about the impact the closure will have on the community.

"Washington County is the poorest county in Maine," she said. "We're already in economic hardship and we don't need it anymore."

Lawmakers debated an emergency bill Thursday that would have funded the Downeast Correctional facility for another year, but the vote fell short of the 2/3 majority needed in the House.

Citing the same reasons as Gov. LePage, House Republicans said the conditions of the facility was poor and the cost too high to continue.

"The time has come to finally close the Downeast Correctional facility so we can start a new chapter," said Assistant Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester. "We need to do the right thing now. I know it's not easy."

Washington County Commissioners have filed an injunction in Kennebec County Court, attempting to halt the LePage administration's move.

While the effort to restore funding in the legislature appears to have ended, some are still hopeful the court case can help their cause.

"We in Washington County have never given up, and we will not give up until it's done," said Senator Joyce Maker, R-Calais.

There is some talk of creating a new pre-release center in Washington County, but employees from Downeast Correctional say it will take time. For the immediate future, they say there's little hope.

"It's sad," Ann Grange, a teacher at DECF for 20 years. "It's the end of an era."

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