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Quoddy Tides
Eastport, Maine
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February 9, 2018     Quoddy Tides
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February 9, 2018
 

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9 February, 2018 THE QUODDY TIDES Page 15 SUPPORTERS OF PRISON (from page 1) The public heating lasted almost two hours and was well attended by prison staff, business owners who utilize the work-release program, community mem- bers who have benefited from the com- munity service projects undertaken by the minimum-security inmates and more. In addition about 3,000 signatures in favor of keeping the prison open were submit- ted. At the hearing, no one testified against the bill, but many spoke in support. Rep. Alley, noting the recent history of the Maine Department of Corrections (DOC) and Governor LePage's attempts to close the facility, said, "This prison has been on a yo-yo for years now." Senator Joyce Maker said that when a previous bill was passed by the legisla- ture, LD 1447, it authorized a revenue bond of $149.5 million for im- provements to DCF and the facil- ity in Windham - "improvements that are not cur- rently being made." She added, "We were given the understanding that DCF would remain open for at least five years as a way to handle ox, erflow issues at other facilities. Yet last session we were again faced with the possible closure of this fa- cility even after the members of this com- mittee chose to put funding for DCF back in the budget." Maker stressed the importance of the report proposed in the new bill. "We need to look at how closure would impact other correctional facilities in the state. Where would the inmates go, and how well would they be integrated within a new system? Would some of the prisoners be released?" The report would also calculate the eco- nomic impact on the local economies. "Whether the facility remains open or is closed, we need a plan for the future so we're not coming back year after year and having this same discussion." Rep. Tuell stated, "At this time, the DOC is hard pressed to find bed space for inmates, and closing DCF, especially clos- ing it with no plan for housing the in- mates, no plan for compensating displaced employees, or no plan for disposing of an abandoned property, is simply not some- thing the legislature should rush into five short months before the facility is slated to close." Speaking as a private citizen and not as an employee of the facility or represent- ing the Department of Corrections, Mag- gie Marshall of Machias pointed to information about DCF readily available on the DOC website. As of January 22, there were 141 vacant beds for male pris- oners available statewide. If the Machi- asport prison were to close immediately, 64 prisoners "would need to be transferred to minimum-security beds." With further calculations about medium- and maxi- mum-security beds, she explained that there would not be enough beds for all DCF prisoners. DCF, she noted, has the ability to switch from minimum to medi- um security, which could be another way to use the prison: to house other types of prisoners to accommodate bed pressures around the state. Rep. Alley noted his surprise when he heard an employee of DCF testify that they had all received a memo from the Department of Corrections concerning the bill. The memo said that they were to take time off when they were testifying, and they were not to say they were speaking on behalf of the department. They were further admonished to be careful about what they said because "the governor will be watching closely." Remarking on the news of the DOC memo, Rep. Alley said, "To tell employ- ees that they are to testify as private citi- zens is fine, but the implied threat of 'the governor will be watching' is not OK." He added, "People need to be free to say what they want on their own time. This is something I didn't think would happen in Maine." "Information is important to making a good decision, and who better than the employees who work there every day to provide that information?" asked Rep. Perry. "This kind of warning will stifle our ability to get accurate information." Impacts of closure Charles Rudelitch, executive director of Sunrise County Economic Council, pre- sented testimony at the public hearing about the economic impact of closure. "We project that the layoffs associated with closing DCF would cost Washington County 77 jobs," he said, adding that "55 of those jobs are direct layoffs of DCF staff and related medical personnel." Using an economic mod- el, his organization forecast an addi- tional 22 lost jobs in the county be- cause of reduced spending by DCF employee households. All together the county's economy would see an annual loss of $8.4 million. Pointing to the importance of the mini- mum-security inmates to the local econo- my, Cherryfield Foods General Manager David Bell gave a rundown of how the company uses the work-release program, which allows inmates to learn skills as they begin their transition back to society. "We employ 50 local people year-round and have to more than double the work- force for fresh processing in the summer, as we run 24 hours a day, and when we have large orders." Bell explained, "We are in competition with the lobster fishing, the summer tour- ism industry and lobster processing to name a few. The work-release program helps to bridge the seasonal and peak la- bor needs." Over the last few years the total payroll to work-release employees has been "about $1.7 million with about $340,000 going to the general fund." He added that if necessary the wages are garnished for restitution, child care, debt repayment and more. "Any remaining funds are a finan- cial start for the inmates when they are released." Of the many work-release employees, 12 have gone on to be employed by Cher- ryfield Foods after their sentence was completed. "Currently we have one who is a supervisor and another that is a skilled high-reach fork-truck driver," Bell said. "Four of our current work-release employ- ees are interested in long-term employ- ment after their release." Whitney Wreath also utilizes the work- release program. CEO David Whitney stated that in the last wreath-making sea- son they had used 15. "They area very valuable workforce to the enterprise." From time to time the company has em- ployed inmates who have been released after the completion of their sentence. Some have been laborers, some in quality control and some in office management. Daniel Ramsdell, commenting as an in- dividual and not as a corrections officer at the prison, told of an inmate incarcerated on drug charges who utilized the work- release program. "He said it was the first time he'd ever had a job. He felt like he had some skills." Ramsdell pointed to the value of gaining the confidence to do a job well and finding an employment path, "You can see it on their faces when they can send money home for their kids to have Christmas." Rep. Tueli outlines next steps for the bill. "The next stop will be the House and Senate floors, and then on to appropria- tions. Odds are, it won't be hashed out till late in session, most likely mid to late April, if we're lucky." RESTRUCTURING PROPOSAL (from page 1) closed, five of the 15 county jails around legislature said, 'Nah, we'll give you the state are zeroed out in the summary 80%.'" He adds, "It was pure turmoil." budget estimate. They are the ones in An- Last year it cost $87 million to run the droscoggin, Franklin, Oxford, Piscataquis county jails, with the state coveting $15.3 and Washington counties. Three regional million of that amount, and Governor LeP- multi-county jail authorities would be ere- age sought to cut state funding for county ated: southern, mid-coastal and northern, jails as part of a budget proposal that the with five jails in each region. The pro- legislature turned down. He previously has posed savings, according to the summary said the jails should be funded and run by budget, would be around $10 million a either the state or the county in order to year. avoid duplication. What counties might see happen to their The county jail budget analysis in the jail budgets is another matter, with Gard- latest DOC plan shows the Washington ner pointing out the amount of time law County jail with a budget of $2.191 mil- enforcement would spend shuttling pris- lion and an overage of about $164,000, oners to regional jails. "It's not just the for total expenditures of $2.355 million. wear and tear on vehicles," he says, ex- Eight of the 15 jails listed had lower ex- plaining that law enforcement departments penditures than their respective "frozen" in the county are lean as it is. Turn one of budget amounts. While the overages for those officers into a taxi driver removed those jails that then drew state funds from their patrolling duties every time ranged from $15,000 to $250,000, the Ox- someone has to be taken to jail in ford jail was $482,781 overits frozenbud- Ellsworth, Bangor or Houlton, he adds, get amount. The largest jail budget, and the pressure on those departments to Cumberland, with reported expenditures deal with the rising drug problem and as- of $18,763,000, would see the largest gain sociated crimes becomes even more diffi- if the new plan comes to fruition, with a cult. It would take all day, he says, to budget expected to rise to $20,727,000. transport prisoners to jails located else- "The fact that they're revisiting a terrif- where. "It'll be a big tax shift back to ically flawed idea," says Gardner, pausing local property owners." and not finishing the sentence. "We'll be The county jail funding formula is a taxed at whatever we were payin~ before contentious one, with a convoluted histo- and sending it out of county. So we're ry that began in 2007, explains Gardner. taking, what, about $2.1 million and job The Baldacci administration tried to tack- creating outside of the county." He notes, le a jail bed shortage by creating a unified "The vast amount of the money in the system under a 2008 state law that sought budget is for wages, and it's usually for to consolidate jail operations. Counties younger persons with families." How, he kicked and screamed, with Washington asks, does Washington County, with its County one of the counties that reluctant- already significant struggles to maintain ly signed on when it was no longer viable employment options for younger resi- to stand alone. "We did not sign up initial- dents, survive a jail closure with the possi- ly, but eventually we did," Gardner says. bility of the prison closure as well; "This The state promised to freeze the counties' coming fight behind the prison is some- jail budget amounts, with the amount of thing. What the hell are we doing?" he local taxes that can be raised to support asks rhetorically. jails capped at a 4% increase per year. The However, Gardner is hopeful that the state then would pay the overage in any plan will meet with both resistance and costs. The agreement looked good on pa- timing issues. "I can say with pretty good per, but Gardner notes that if just one enti- confidence, realizing even if everyone ty doesn't live up to its end it falls apart, agreed, we don't think there's enough Two parts of the agreement that muddied time in the legislative session to get it the mix were changing costs and chang- done. I don't thinkthis has a chance of ing legislative bodies. Rather than paying proceeding unless the next governor is in- 100% of the overage, he says, "The next terested in it." Washington County Community College 4N~-DJscc, vor Choices Creoie Success WCCC will be 0fiering an ESL Course This course is designed to improve student's level of English and will cover listening comprehension, writing, reading, grammar, vocabulary, language skills and various other topics. Students will be assessed at the start of the course to ensure course objectives meet needs of those enrolled. Classes will be Tuesday & Thursday nights from 5-7:30pm February 20-May 17th, 2018. This course is free of charge. For more information or to sign up, please call: 49,-1 www.wccc.me.edu facebooLcom/discoveruccc WCCC is an EO/AA Employer