WARREN — During this pandemic of biblical proportions, incarcerated men and women and those charged with overseeing and caring for them are looking for positive direction.

President George Washington once said “No country on earth ever had it more in its power to attain blessings than United America. Wondrously strange, then and much to be regretted indeed would it be were we to neglect the means and to depart from the road which Providence has pointed out to us so plainly; I cannot believe it will ever come to pass.”

A golden opportunity now exists to create a healthy reset in the Maine correctional system. Careful consideration about releasing inmates who no longer pose a threat to the community, especially those at the end of their sentences, would be a step forward. When any further incarceration is serving no purpose, action should be taken to assess and determine whether that person can function as a valued asset in society.

In the words of one Maine prosecutor, “Sentencing is not a science.” In order to take the right path, we must choose the right values and adopt the right perspectives. Once a person has demonstrated significant change for the better during a substantial portion of their sentence, that person should have a full opportunity to reintegrate back into the community.

But inmates need help reintegrating into the community, and services provided by pre-release centers could play a significant role in that preparation.

A short time ago, I arrived at the minimum security Bolduc Correctional Facility, dubbed “The Farm” for its agricultural surroundings, and which includes a cemetery where prisoners are buried and a wide open landscape teaming with wildlife.

Bolduc houses inmates with five years or less remaining on their sentences. Its director provides treatment, programming and job training to those preparing to re-enter the community. Building individuals is the top priority for case workers, who provide case management and play a crucial role in assessing needs and linking offenders to services, especially those who are released from prison without supervision.

The Maine Department of Corrections has six adult institutions, but only one pre-release center in operation, located in Belfast. Its total inmate capacity is approximately 24 beds, so not all inmates are provided with suitable preparation for re-entering the community.

An important goal of the corrections system is rehabilitating prisoners and making them less likely to commit crimes after they’re released. The public housing options for inmates being released are in disarray – currently, the corrections department has contracts with motels statewide for placement of inmates being released. This costs the state money and creates a continued burden for the released client and the department.

Pre-release centers are critical to helping inmates utilize programs that already exist in the community, such as substance abuse treatment, and anger management and parenting classes. Such programs help prisoners establish relationships with counselors, provide someone to talk to in a positive way, and give them access to mentoring. The Hallowell Pre-Release Center, which was located at the former Stevens School complex on Winthrop Street, opened in 1979 but was ordered closed in 2013.

The facility was valuable to the community through providing labor, services at a local homeless shelter, landscaping, painting and general assistance. These re-entry services also helped reintegrate the inmates back into society and provided them an opportunity to adapt and develop relations with members of the community. We have to reopen our pre-release centers in Hallowell and Bangor to provide a gateway mechanism for those being released from custody.

The Maine correctional system’s prospects can change for the better if we incorporate new thinking that is more conducive to a work and therapy mindset.

— Special to the Press Herald

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