Gov. Paul LePage says he’s “readjusting” operations at the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport now that a judge has ruled that his administration lacks the authority to unilaterally close the prison. But while the governor suggests he’ll return some inmates who were transferred and rehire staff who were let go, it’s not clear how many, and an attorney for the workers is concerned because the statement is so vague.
In a written statement released Monday afternoon, LePage said the commissioner of the Department of Corrections will comply with the court’s order to keep the prison open until funding runs out June 30. But LePage also said that running the prison will be done “in the most fiscally responsible manner,” with minimal staffing and a minimum number of inmates.
What those numbers are remains unclear. Layoff notices were sent to 39 DCF workers last month and 63 inmates were transferred to other facilities.
“Based on the statement, it sounds to me like the department is playing games,” says Jeff Young, an attorney for unionized workers laid off from the Downeast Correctional Facility.
Young says the governor’s statement lacks important details.
“Minimal compliance is not restoring the prison to operation. They’re so vague on the details and they’ve had virtually a week now to plan what they need to do for compliance. This, to me, sounds like noncompliance and possibly thumbing their nose at the court,” he says.
Corrections Commissioner Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick says he expects to have more details about numbers in the next couple of days. Fitzpatrick says the key will be finding out how many employers in the Machiasport area can make use of prisoners in work release for the next 2-3 months.
“As you know, that facility was a facility that supplied offenders to local organizations and employers. So, we’re working with the Department of Labor, we’re reaching out to local employers and we’re getting an idea on the numbers that we’ll be shipping up there, and then the staffing will be hand in hand with the numbers,” he says.
In other words, how many staff are brought back to work at DCF will depend on the number of inmates who are needed to temporarily supply labor. Fitzpatrick says it remains the administration’s goal to close the prison at the end of June.
Young says he wants clarification from the administration. If the answer isn’t satisfactory he says he and other union attorneys will be back in front of Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy.
Young says their expectation is that to comply with her order the administration needs to restore “substantial operations” at the facility.