Committee Hears Testimony in Support of Funding for Downeast Correctional Facility

AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - A large crowd gathered at the State House Monday in support of extended funding for Downeast Correctional Facility.

The Washington County prison is slated for closure on June 30th unless more funding is approved.

A teacher who works at DCF says, "Downeast Correctional is viable. Use us for what we have to offer. We have a lot in the area. What's $5 million when you talk about peoples' lives? This state throws $5 million away everyday."

Residents, business owners, and Downeast Correctional employees showed up in large numbers at the State House in support of the bill.

Lawmakers who drafted the bill say the extension would allow the legislature time to plan the next steps for the facility.

Representative William Tuell of East Machias says, "We don't have a plan and the people need to be settled. They need to have some answers, the people there, the prisoners, the staff, the community."

Susan West, Board Chair of the Board of Visitors for DCF says, "Everybody is on edge. Is this facility going to close? Is it going to stay open?"

Governor LePage has been vocal about his desire to close the facility.

Facility employees at the meeting say the Corrections Commissioner sent an email with strict guidelines of how they could speak at the public hearing.

Some saying they feared retaliation for speaking out.

The teacher says, "We were not, not, and this was all in bold print, to represent DCF or the Department of Corrections but ourselves as a citizen, and then in small print at the bottom, be careful because the Governor is listening."

DCF Officers were told they could not speak to the press and had to speak as a citizen on non-work hours.

But they, along with business owners in the area, expressed their support of the facility and the work-release program that helps the prisoners and the community.

One DCF Officer says, "When we became a minimum security, I was a bit skeptical of this program of sending prisoners out. This is the best program I've seen in the 26 years that I've been in corrections. It works."

There is still a long legislative process ahead for the bill, but bill sponsors say they will keep fighting.

Tuell says, "We got to keep at it one day at a time and keep pushing it and keep getting the word out."