MACHIASPORT, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Governor LePage has made it clear he wants to close the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport. He has said it's in bad shape and is the most expensive prison to run, but members of the board of visitors for the prison say the governor is making it seem far worse than it actually is.
The Board of Visitors offered a public tour of the facility on Friday followed by a Powerpoint presentation in an effort to make their case. Although the tour was open to the public and members of the media, cameras were not allowed inside.
"It's not a media tour, it's a public tour for our board of visitors meeting," explained Director David Daniels, as he asked us to turn off our cameras.
We were given a tour of several buildings inside the facility including the library, dormitories, the laundry room, welding shop, recreation facility, vocational trades building, and kitchen and dining area.
The facility does show its age. The Federal Government built it in 1956 to house the Bucks Harbor Air Force Base. The base closed in 1979. In 1984 it was established by the Maine Legislature as the Downeast Correctional Facility.
There are several cosmetic issues including stained floor tiles in the library, wood floors in need of refinishing in the recreation center and shingles that need replacing on the recreation center roof. The asphalt pavement in the prison yard is also badly cracked.
But there's been a lot of capital improvements to the facility too. According to a report presented to the Board of Visitors, there has been more than $1.17 million dollars in upgrades to the facility since 2007. That includes 8 new high efficiency boilers totaling about $250 thousand dollars. Prison Officials say those boilers have allowed it to cut its heating fuel usage by two thirds since 2006. The capital improvements list also includes four new commercial gas dryers in the laundry rooms worth $78 thousand dollars. There have also been upgrades to exterior LED lighting, and new kitchen equipment.
"This is one of the most efficiently run prisons in the state and I really think were being sandbagged," explained Susan West, the chair of the Board of Visitors.
The governor has said that Downeast, at an annual cost of about $46 thousand per inmate is the most expensive prison to run, but according to a Powerpoint presentation presented to the board of visitor by prison staff, those costs were closer to $39 thousand per inmate when the facility was run at it's designed capacity of 145 inmates.
"if you run this with 145 people like it's designed for it runs as cheaply as any facility in the state," explained Bob Peacock, a member of the Board of Visitors.
The Board also touted the prisons value to the local community and to the state economy. Several area businesses used prison labor through the facilities work release program. Inmates mow lawns at 13 town owned cemeteries. In 2016, inmates earned more than $1 million dollars in wages. 20% of those wages went to the general fund. Some of those wages also went to pay for things like court fines and child support payments.
Governor LePage has said closing the facility will save the state about $5 million dollars a year, which is the cost to run the facility. According to prison officials however, there is no cost benefit analysis they are aware of to show the economic impact the facility has on the region.
Currently the Board of Visitors is waiting to see if the legislature will vote to fund the facility for another two years. As of right now, the staff at DCF has layoff notices for August 9th.
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