“Punishes and marginalizes”; “ignores rehabilitation”; “grinds down humanity” – if you read the Maine Sunday Telegram’s July 28 editorial, “Our View: Maine should get more from justice system,” you likely walked away with a bleak view of the work of Maine’s correctional system.

As commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, former Maine State Prison warden, former Kennebec County sheriff, former president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association and a veteran of the armed services, I want to set the record straight.

Maine’s Department of Corrections employs and contracts with more than 1,200 people dedicated to the goal of reducing the likelihood an individual will return to the department’s custody once they have been released. We do this by providing individuals opportunities to engage in high-quality educational, vocational, therapeutic and pro-social programs and services.

Last year, more than 400 men completed an educational program and more than 100 women completed job preparation programs. Offenders grow and harvest more than 193,000 pounds of produce that supplies DOC facilities across the state of Maine, providing substantial cost savings to the department and equipping offenders with marketable job skills. Any given day, more than 200 individuals in our custody are working for employers in communities across Maine as part of the work-release program.

Every year, more than 400 people volunteer their time to mentor, teach and support offenders inside a Maine Department of Corrections facility.  These volunteers lead programs that provide offenders personal and professional enrichment. Maine Hospice Council teaches and certifies offenders to provide palliative and end-of-life care to offenders; the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association provides a program and direct connection with employers to offenders interested in the industry.

The justice system and correctional systems are cumbersome and fallible, there is no doubt. I agree with many that policing techniques, sentencing laws and pre-release programs can be examined for deeper reform, while at the same time preserving public safety and minimizing victim impact. Justice is dynamic, just like the people it serves.

Redemption happens. Someone incarcerated engages in programming that changes the course of his or her life. Men and women graduate from college programs while serving time. Employers across Maine take an open-minded approach to training and hiring someone with a record to re-enter the workforce.

Negative stereotypes about a broken system that produces broken people perpetuate stigma. By failing to spotlight the hundreds of motivated, skilled, respectable people working hard every day to rejoin the state of Maine, we inadvertently make re-entry more difficult.

Resources are sparse, and there is a wide range of challenges that we are often unequipped for, including the opioid epidemic. But state and county correctional institutions are responding to this and other emerging threats to health and public safety by examining best practices and adopting new strategies. It is the rehabilitation of our friends, our neighbors and our family that drives Maine’s correctional system and the Department of Corrections.

We all need to believe we are worthy of redemption, and we all need to know that someone else believes we are worthy of redemption, too.

I encourage a meaningful discussion about ways to meet the mission of rehabilitation, and I welcome the Editorial Board to meet with the men and women who are succeeding because of the hard work, compassion and investment of our staff, state and local government and Maine communities. The system owes those who’ve come out the other side an opportunity to be part of the conversation.


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