Tuesday, May 21, 2013
By Keith Edwards email@example.com
(Continued from page 1)
This photo taken on Jan. 10 shows the Central Maine Pre-Release Center in Hallowell.
Staff file photo by Joe Phelan
"They'd remain state employees," Liberty said, "running their own operation out of our facility."
Some city councilors expressed concern that the jail might not have the space for inmates from the pre-release center.
Liberty said Friday said the jail has the capacity to take additional prisoners and there would be no additional cost to the county or its taxpayers, because the state would pick up the cost. He said county jails in Maine are now in a unified system, so when one has space for prisoners and another is overcrowded, they can move the prisoners to the less-crowded jail.
Liberty said the jail has had a pre-release work program for about 20 years. In that program, inmate work crews perform supervised work such as cleaning public cemeteries or painting buildings, as do inmates at the pre-release center in Hallowell.
He said for every two days of work, county inmates get one day off their sentences.
The work performed by inmates at the pre-release center, which Wilson said amounted to thousands of hours a year, is one reason many area residents have advocated keeping it in Hallowell.
Legislators also have expressed concern about the planned April 15 closure of the facility.
However, the state wants to sell the Stevens School complex where the pre-release center is located, and Wilson said state officials fear having a facility of inmates, even those transitioning back to society, as the anchor tenants of the complex would make it harder to sell.
Wilson said the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is interested in hearing whether any central Maine community would be interested in being the location of a pre-release center.
Dean Lachance, executive director of Bread of Life in Augusta, which runs a soup kitchen, a shelter and housing programs, said inmates from the pre-release center have worked countless hours on the nonprofit organization's buildings and grounds and "do amazing things for our organization."
At a recent public meeting in Hallowell, more than 50 people spoke about the pre-release center' benefits and seemed unanimous in their support of it remaining at its current location. Lachance said he was struck by the fact that none of them suggested that if it has to move, it move elsewhere in Hallowell.
"Someone stood up and spoke about all the benefits of the program, then said, 'Why can't it move to Augusta?'" Lachance said. "I was shocked. If they truly want them to stay, the thing to do is rally as a community and look to find a place that would be feasible for them to stay."
Scott Fish, a Department of Corrections spokesman, said Friday that date is "fluid" because the department is open to considering other locations for it in the Augusta area.
"I understand the city of Augusta already does a lot," said Wilson said, the state representative. He noted that Augusta is already home to the county jail and the location of numerous nonprofit organizations, which aren't required to pay property taxes because it is the state capital.
"I need to know if my community supports the idea" of having a pre-release center in Augusta, Wilson said. "My feeling is the community may not like having that facility here, but I feel that may change if there were more education about the type of facility we're dealing with. We're not talking about another jail here. These are minimum-security inmates. They don't pose a threat, generally, to society in any way. These individuals are working on a daily basis, are at the end of their sentences and looking to be released."
City Manager William Bridgeo told councilors and Wilson he was "hearing a lot of open-mindedness about the whole conversation," and said he would begin seeking data about the pre-release center before considering scheduling a public forum to discuss the concept and what community members think of it.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647