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LePage to Commute Sentences of Unspecified Number of Maine Prisoners

State prison officials are preparing to release an unspecified number of prisoners at several facilities in Maine after an announcement Tuesday by Gov. Paul LePage that he is commuting some sentences.

Without specifying a number, LePage says he will commute some sentences as part of an effort to “modernize” the state Corrections Department and promote fiscal responsibility. The action arrives just weeks before the governor’s closure of the Downeast Correctional Facility in Bucks Harbor.

The governor’s decision took legislators and corrections staff by surprise. Jim Mackie, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 93 that represents Maine’s corrections officers says no one really knows how many prisoners will be released early.

“We know at this time a minimum of eight from MCC, we’ve been hearing numbers as high as 20 from the Bolduc facility,” he says.

LePage’s decision to begin prisoner commutation arrives on the heels of his decision to close the Downeast Correctional Facility in Washington County, where about 100 prisoners are held. Last week, 55 employees at the Down East prison and several at Long Creek Youth Center in South Portland received layoff notices.

Mackie says the governor’s decision to release prisoners before they completed their sentences will facilitate Downeast’s closure.

“It would be one thing if these prisoners were being released because they deserve to be released, but these inmates are being released so the governor can close a facility, and that’s what people have to understand,” he says. “He has snubbed his nose at the Legislature and the legislative process. There has already been a vote in Criminal Justice, unanimously, to fund that facility and keep it open and he’s snubbing his nose and basically said, ‘I’ll just get rid of the inmates and then the facility goes away,’” he says.

Complicating the issue for LePage, Mackie says, is the state’s corrections policy determining bed assignments across the system.

“The problem the governor has is that there’s 100 inmates at Downeast Correctional and they have to get them out of there, and our understanding from checking with our folks is that there’s only 26 open beds in DOC,” he says.

Multiple calls and emails to the governor’s office and the Maine Department of Corrections were not returned.