Senate Republican Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AUGUSTA – On Friday, May 19, the Governor delivered pink slips to all 46 employees of the Downeast Correctional Facility in Bucks Harbor, transferring a large number of prisoners from the minimum security prison to maximum security facilities and is rumored to be commuting the sentences of 75 prisoners after the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety voted against a measure included in the proposed biennial budget to zero out funding to the facility.
“The people of Washington County are very disheartened by this news,” said Senator Joyce Maker (R-Washington). “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. What’s more, if we have any more trials in the state, we are going to have to let them off as well because without Downeast, there are literally no more beds for prisoners in this state.
“We have to look at this as the big picture. Do we want to have sentences lowered because without Downeast our prisons are full? To me, this sends a bad message that Maine is soft on crime, and it isn’t fair to the victims of the crimes that have been committed.
“This prison should have at least been kept in operation until the Windham prison project is finished and a thorough review has been conducted. Anything less is unacceptable.”
“The Department of Corrections has stated on numerous occasions that they have only a handful of open beds,” said Representative Will Tuell (R-East Machias). “Commissioner Fitzpatrick has told the Criminal Justice committee that if they have fewer than thirty beds statewide, they are going to be in dire straits. As of early May, DOC had between 40-60 open beds in its prison system statewide. Taking 100+ beds off the table is not a solution, in fact, it only makes the situation much, much worse. The problem we have is not just a “Washington County” problem, it is a statewide problem.
“On one hand we are saying that if you commit a crime, you do your time. On the other, we are saying that only applies if we have the money to keep you in prison. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me, that ought to be unacceptable.”
In addition, concerns have been raised as to the legality of the Governor’s actions. 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…”Similarly, the current budget establishes the Downeast Correctional Facility as a discrete program by making appropriations specific to the facility. A program so established cannot be eliminated by the executive branch…And in the absence of express statutory authority, the Governor cannot put appropriations to a different purpose than that specified in the budget or other law.”
In addition to putting a significant strain on the statewide prison system, the closure of this facility will be a major hit to the local community, both in jobs lost and in the loss of a workforce that many local businesses have come to rely on. A layoff of this magnitude will have the same impact on Washington County as a loss of more than 400 jobs in Cumberland County, which doesn’t face the same economic and employment struggles.