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Governor’s Address: Do the right thing with Downeast Correctional Facility

As Governor, it’s my responsibility to make the tough decisions. The upcoming closure of the Downeast Correctional Facility in Washington County is the right thing to do.

The Department of Corrections has the duty and responsibility to run secure and humane facilities for convicted felons in a fiscally sound manner.

Keeping Downeast Correctional Facility open violates these principles – unless we spend millions of dollars to improve an outdated, decaying facility.

This facility was built in 1955 as Bucks Harbor Air Force Base, providing radar support to Brunswick Naval Air Station. In the early 1980s, the Legislature bought it from the federal government and opened it as a prison, although it was never designed as one.

In 2002, the voters rejected a bond initiative to replace the facility. It continued to degrade. Governors King and Baldacci each tried to close it.

After decades of neglect, the annual legislative attempts to keep it on life-support must end.

Over the past 10 years, Downeast Correctional Facility has cost more to operate on a per-inmate-basis than Maine State Prison: DCF averages $44,148 per inmate per year, while MSP averages $43,773. It’s not efficient.

This prison is not a solution to Washington County’s economic challenges. It isn’t even a band-aid.

We’ve invested millions of dollars to improve the economy of Washington County, and our efforts are paying off. My administration has invested more than eight million new dollars in the University of Maine at Machias for marine business incubation, the softshell clam industry, and seaweed farming. We’ve reinvigorated the Bailleyville Mill.

The people of Washington County earned $38 million more dollars in wages in 2017 than in 2010. The unemployment rate in the county is at 5.2 percent – the lowest rate ever.

Rather than wasting money patching up 63-year-old buildings at the end of their useful life, I am focused on creating jobs and improving workforce readiness in Washington County.

When we closed the prison, the employers of DCF’s inmates hired local people. When the department called to say that a few of the inmates were coming back, they said, “Great! Just, give us a couple days to lay off the local people.” Wrong answer.

Prisons are not jobs programs. They are not economic investment. For those fighting to keep Downeast open, I challenge them to make the harder but better choice.

We should sell the property to private investors who will redevelop it. Then we can put the savings into the substance abuse rehabilitation program in Windham, where it is truly needed. Which is more important, a new drug rehabilitation program or an old, outdated jail?

Let’s stop playing games with the employees, the inmates, the employers, and the people of Washington County. Close it on July 1, as planned, and move on.

It’s the right thing to do.

Thank you for listening.

Paul LePage

Governor

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