Bucks Harbor prison closed; sentences may be commuted

MACHIAS — On Friday, the Maine Department of Corrections handed pink slips to all 46 employees of the Downeast Correctional Facility in Bucks Harbor.

The shutdown could result in the transfer of a large number of prisoners from the minimum security prison to maximum security facilities.

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

“The Department of Corrections has stated on numerous occasions that they have only a handful of open beds,” said Rep. Will Tuell (R-East Machias). “Commissioner Fitzpatrick has told the Criminal Justice Committee that if they have fewer than 30 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-plus 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.

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.”

The Downeast Correctional Facility, located at the former Bucks Harbor Air Force Station, was established by the Legislature in September 1984, according to the Maine Department of Corrections website. The facility began receiving inmates in June 1985. Downeast Correctional was a minimum security prison with a prisoner count of 148, according to the department.