Machiasport Prison to Remain Open Until June 2018

By Lura Jackson

When Governor Paul LePage passed a state budget in the early hours of Tuesday, July 4th, he ended a three-day state-shutdown – the first to occur in over 25 years. As he did so, he simultaneously granted a reprieve to the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport, which has been under the threat of closure since May. Now, the prison is scheduled to remain open at least until June of 2018.

The news is particularly welcome for the approximately 50 employees at the facility, some of which are close to retirement. According to data provided by Charles Rudelitch of the Sunrise County Economic Council, the closure of the jail would have resulted in the job losses of almost twenty more people in Washington County due to indirect effects, and the economic output of the county would be reduced by more than $6.8 million. Inmates at the facility provide substantial support for the Machias community through paid labor and assistance with repairs to buildings while receiving training and job-site experience. The state’s cost to operate the prison is approximately $5 million.

“What a great day for each and every one of these hardworking men and women who have given so much to DCF, our community, and Washington County,” stated Representative Will Tuell, who, along with Senator Joyce Maker, proved to be the loudest and most persistent supporters of keeping the facility open. 

While the news that the prison will be remaining open for another year is promising, Governor LePage has said that he will move forward with his intentions to close it next year. The issue will come before the legislature in August when the legislative session is reconvened. The economic impact of the correctional facility is but one component of the upcoming discussion. A major factor in keeping the prison open will be the successful allocation of the prison’s approximately 60 inmates. If the closure had proceeded in June as LePage initially intended, it may have seen the monitored release of minor offenders, a situation that Senator Maker has previously referred to as “disturbing”. Another factor in the discussion will be condition of the facility, which LePage has referred to as “not fit to live in.”

Due to the threatened closure of the facility, 15 inmates were transferred out at the start of June. No other inmates are being accepted at the facility, a condition that will continue unless plans to keep it open indefinitely are made.