State to close Downeast Correctional Facility next month

Downeast Correctional Facility to close

MACHIASPORT, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Forty-six employees at Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport are receiving pink slips, and state officials are closing the prison next month. 

Downeast Correctional Facility has been on the chopping block before. A bill before the legislature this session sought to de-fund the facility, but it was unanimously rejected by lawmakers on the criminal justice committee. Yet Department of Corrections Commissioner Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick said the facility was closing due to lack of funds.

"Funding to operate Downeast Correctional Facility will no longer be available as of June 10; therefore, the facility will be closing at that time," said Dr. Fitzpatrick in a statement.

“The people of Washington County are very disheartened by this news,” said Senator Joyce Maker (R-Washington).

According to a statement from Senate Republicans, the state could be commuting the sentences of 75 prisoners. 

“I don’t know what’s more disturbing, shutting down this facility against the will of the Legislature or potentially letting 75 prisoners, which is more than half of the prisoners currently housed there, walk free because there’s no room for them in any other facility in Maine," Maker said.

The Department of Corrections statement did not say anything about commuting sentences; the 100 minimum-security and community-custody inmates currently at Downeast Correctional Center will be moved to other facilities by June 10th, according to Dr. Fitzpatrick.

Dr. Fitzpatrick said this closure is not a threat to public safety.

The Department of Corrections Commissioner later confirmed Friday that five educational positions at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland would also be eliminated. Tom Farkas of MSEA says 7 positions are being eliminated at the South Portland facility. Whether or not further operations at that facility are in jeopardy is yet to be determined.

Senate Republicans have also questioned whether the governor has the legal authority to close the facility.  

In a letter dated April 27, Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Pistner said on the issue that, “The Governor cannot unilaterally amend statutes without violating the separation of powers provisions in article III of the Maine Constitution,”  the press release states. 

An earlier version of this story reported 11 positions at Long Creek Youth Development Center would be eliminated. The Department of Corrections has confirmed that only five positions will be lost. Tom Farkas, Communications & Training Coordinator for the Maine State Employees Association, says 7 positions will be lost at the South Portland facility.  

© 2017 WLBZ-TV


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