Washington County deserves answers on pre-release center

By Sen. Kimberley Rosen

For too long, the people of Washington County have been in limbo over the future of the Downeast Correctional Facility (DFC). Unfortunately, the events of this past month have only served to increase their uncertainty.

On Feb. 9, more than 60 inmates were transferred out of the prison to other facilities around the state and the entire Downeast Correctional staff was laid off.

DCF has been one of the largest employers in Washington County, and while it may sound unusual to think of a prison as an economic driver, DFC is no ordinary prison.

Inmates who live there are not simply “doing time.” They take part in work-release programs and hold jobs at businesses throughout the region. Inmates are low-risk offenders from correctional facilities around the state who have to earn their right to stay at DFC. It has long been regarded as what is right with the Maine corrections system because it gives convicted felons the tools necessary to succeed upon their release.

At the same time, there are the questions of whether DFC is cost effective and if makes sense to keep housing inmates at this aging facility that is in need of repair. Governor LePage is not the only governor in recent history to consider closing it.

Nevertheless, people who live in Washington County say the loss of the facility would have devastating economic implications for the region, which is already struggling.

Currently, the Legislature is considering a bill that that will fund DCF for another year. I plan to support it, but I do not believe this, in and of itself, is a solution.

Some believe this proposal buys time to run out the clock on this administration and pin our hopes on long-term support for funding on the next governor and next Legislature.

I believe this bill represents the status quo. It is a proposal that is stuck in time because it fails to move the state, the Department of Corrections and Washington County ahead.

But hopefully it will help us focus now on the work of developing a permanent solution before we adjourn in April.

In 2016, the Legislature and Governor reached an agreement on a government facilities bond that called for, in part, funding for some sort of pre-release center in Washington County. Given the success of the DCF model, I believe it is important to continue this program in some form.

Now is the time to commit to adopting a new efficient, cost-effective model that meets the needs of the state. The vote to temporarily fund DCF is only one step along that path.

Saving the status quo won’t cut it. Putting the Department of Corrections, the Downeast facility and Washington County in limbo for another year doesn’t either.

It is time to stop stringing the people of Washington County along on this important matter and come up with a sustainable plan.

Republican Sen. Kimberley Rosen of Bucksport is serving her second term in the Maine Senate. She is the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and also serves on the Transportation and Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committees.

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