MACHIASPORT, Maine (WABI)- According to a corrections officer union representative, workers at the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport received letters early Friday morning stating they were on paid administration leave until sometime in March.
Jim Mackie with AFSCME Council 93 confirms that officials showed up at the jail around 12:30 a.m. and began loading inmates into busses.
State Police Spokesman Steve McCausland says that troopers were on site this morning only for security purposes to assist Department of Corrections staff.
According to Mackie, the inmates are being moved to the Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston.
The letters were handed out around 6 a.m.
Mackie says the closing comes as a complete surprise.
The prison was slated to be funded until June.
Last month, a bill was presented in the state legislature to extend funding for the Downeast Correctional facility.
Busses arrived at the Charleston facility Friday morning around 9:30.
Governor LePage's office released a statement that read in part:
"Unlike past governors, Governor LePage will not bow to local political pressure to keep open an expensive and inefficient facility to operate. Past efforts simply kicked the down the road and left the question of the Downeast Correctional Facility’s future in doubt, despite knowing that it is not in the state prison system’s best interest to leave it open.
This is not a legislative question, this is a management question.
By March 31, 2018, the Department of Corrections will have enough new beds in other parts of the system that the beds in Downeast will no longer be needed.
Governor LePage believes that DOC should manage the prison system efficiently and effectively based on the strategic needs of the system—not based on local political pressure. The Governor has confidence in DOC’s long-term plan to modernize facilities and balance its ability to serve the prison population.
The Governor has committed to a work-release facility in Washington County, and DOC is continuing to work toward creating such a facility.
The Governor understands that local elected leaders do not want to see job losses in their district, but he does not believe a prison should be the economic development engine of a region.
Instead, Governor LePage has prioritized efforts to encourage the University system to invest in a more prominent marine research hub at the University of Maine at Machias, which could grow jobs and investment in the area.
The governor has also supported efforts to enhance regional transportation and shipping options that could position the Washington County region as a major North American entry point for international trade, competing with Canada and strengthening trade and shipping routes in the North Atlantic."
Statement by AFSCME Council 93 Executive Director Frank Moroney on Governor LePage’s closure of the Downeast Correctional Facility
“Early this morning, under the cover of darkness, Governor LePage moved forward with his reckless plan to close the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport. Approximately 65 inmates were moved to the overcrowded and understaffed Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston and 31 experienced and dedicated AFSCME Corrections Officers received layoff notices effective March 2.
Due to the inability of the Charleston facility to accommodate this sudden influx of inmates, we are deeply concerned for safety of our corrections officers and all of the dedicated staff in Charleston.
Unfortunately, Governor LePage has chosen to risk the possibility of a prison riot by placing his longstanding goal of closing this facility ahead of the safety of his workers.
On multiple occasions, the state legislature has acted in a bipartisan manner to expressly forbid the governor from closing this facility. Most recently, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety voted unanimously this month to keep the facility open.
According to an April 27, 2017 advisory opinion from the State Attorney General’s Office, (see attached) ‘the Downeast Correctional Facility is established by statute’ and ‘the Governor cannot unilaterally amend statutes without violating the separation of powers provisions in article III of the Maine Constitution.’
Apparently, Governor LePage views himself as a leader who is above the law and above the state constitution. We are calling on Governor LePage to halt this dangerous plan and we are calling on the Attorney General to intervene immediately.”
Frank Moroney, Executive Director
AFSCME Council 93
Members of Maine’s Washington County Legislative delegation issued the following joint statement:
“In the dead of night when workers showed up to their shifts at Downeast Correctional Facility, they were told they no longer had jobs or a way to feed their families. Despite clear and repeated bipartisan support for the facility from the legislature and months of work to do the right thing, not only for Washington County, but for our prison system as a whole, Governor LePage chose to unilaterally ignore the wishes of Maine’s elected representatives and close the facility four months ahead of schedule.
“While we do not yet know how far the economic and community impacts of this action will spread, we do know that a layoff of this magnitude is similar to a loss of 600 jobs in Cumberland County, and that it will cause harm to our communities for years to come. This surprise move is irresponsible and is sure to pose a threat to our public safety as a result of the chronic bed shortage, statewide. We will do everything in our power to reverse this decision.”
The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved LD 1704 "An Act To Fund the Downeast Correctional Facility," sponsored by Rep. William Tuell (R-East Machias), just last week. The committee voted unanimously to continue funding Downeast Correctional Facility for at least one additional year. The measure has not yet been voted on by the full House and Senate.
Statement signed by:
Sen. Joyce Maker (R-Washington)
Rep. Will Tuell (R-East Machias)
Rep. Robert Alley (D-Beals)
Rep. Anne Perry (D-Calais)