March 17, 2013

Pre-release center's new site weighed

Augusta officials question whether the capital city is the right place for another state facility.

By KEITH EDWARDS Kennebec Journal

(Continued from page 1)

Liberty said the jail has had a pre-release work program for about 20 years. In that program, county inmate work crews perform supervised work such as cleaning public cemeteries or painting buildings, as do state inmates at the pre-release center in Hallowell.

He said for every two days of work, county inmates get one day shaved off their sentences.

The work performed by state inmates from the pre-release center, which Wilson said amounts to thousands of hours a year, is one reason many residents in the area have advocated keeping it in Hallowell.

Legislators also have voiced concern about the planned April 15 closure of the facility.

But the state wants to sell the complex where the pre-release center is located, and Wilson said state officials fear that having a correctional facility as the anchor tenant of the complex would make it harder to sell.

Wilson said the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee wants to know 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 pre-release center inmates have worked countless hours on the nonprofit group's buildings and grounds and "do amazing things for our organization."

At a recent public meeting in Hallowell, more than 50 people spoke of the pre-release center's benefits and seemed unanimous in their support of its 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?' " he said.

Scott Fish, a Department of Corrections spokesman, said Friday the moving date is "fluid" because the department is open to considering other locations for the center in the Augusta area.

"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."

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

kedwards@centralmaine.com

 

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