May 25, 2018
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Cash-strapped towns, agencies line up to receive free inmate labor

By Diana Bowley, BDN Staff

CHARLESTON, Maine — While Charleston Correctional Facility inmates are used to getting pizza from communities grateful for their work, one town was so thankful for their help that it named a room in their honor.

Every year since the early 1980s, inmates in the minimum-security prison’s industry and restitution programs have provided cash-strapped towns, cities, counties, the state and nonprofit organizations with many thousands of dollars’ worth of free labor. This year to date, the inmates and supervisors in the restitution program have donated nearly 19,000 hours of their time.

“I think every community and government agency has benefited from the program,” Jeffrey Morin, director of the Charleston Correctional Facility, said recently. “We consistently do the most restitution hours of all of the [state’s correctional] facilities.”

Morin said the prison is “pretty unique” because other Department of Corrections facilities focus either on educational programs for the inmates or on community service, while Charleston does both.

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Sam Bradeen, Charleston’s building maintenance supervisor, said the program is so successful that projects are lined up a year ahead of time. Although the program gives back to taxpayers, inmates also benefit by learning a new trade, he said recently.

Matt Church, 31, of Houlton appreciates the education he has received, as well as the opportunity to work outside the prison’s walls. With a little more than four months remaining on his sentence for drug trafficking, Church is looking forward to putting his new skills to use.

“I’ve learned all kinds of trades,” he said.

Chad Pocock of Sherman, who also is in prison for drug trafficking, believes the restitution program has helped straighten out his life. He said he realizes now there is more to life than drugs, and he wants to immerse himself in the work, as he was doing in Guilford this past Friday. The project involved the construction of two portable classrooms for Piscataquis Community High and Middle Schools.

It’s work that SAD 4 Superintendent Paul Stearns appreciates.

“The workmanship has been excellent,” he said Wednesday. “By having them do the work, we were able to build a quality place for learning — an atmosphere that is certainly of a much higher quality than if we had brought in the typical trailer units.”

The inmates’ workmanship is also evident in Newport, where they helped renovate the Newport Cultural Center last year. Center officials were so pleased with the work that they had the prison’s name engraved on a plaque above the door to one of the building’s rooms.

“Without their assistance, this project would have cost real money, probably, and I’m going to estimate it around $180,000,” Newport Town Manager Jim Ricker said Wednesday. That is the amount it would have cost the taxpayers or fundraising groups to complete the project, he explained.

The inmates not only milled out all of the trim for the 13,000-square-foot building; they also built bookcases and glass displays for the library, and worked on the roof, he said.

The directors of the Newport Cultural Center wanted to recognize the prisoners for their work and felt the name recognition on the plaque would be one way to do so, Ricker said. “We just feel totally indebted to them for what they [have] done for the community.”

The list of projects the inmates have completed this year is as long as last year’s. They have assisted the Department of Transportation on road and bridge projects, remodeled offices for Sebec and the Maine Forest Service in Old Town, repaired the fishways at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Enfield Hatchery, cleaned the Charleston town office, helped the Maine Forest Service fight forest fires, painted churches, cut wood, cleaned up state campgrounds, mowed cemeteries, and built picnic tables, boat ramps and floats for the Department of Conservation.

Tom Morrison, director of operations for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, said Wednesday his department has been so pleased with the inmates’ work, it is urging towns that get state grants for boat ramps to contact the prison to see if its inmates can do the work.

“It indicates our satisfaction with the quality and [it] provides a good deal for the municipality in terms of a cost-effective way to use that grant money,” he said.

For financially challenged towns such as Milo, the work is a blessing, according to Town Manager Jeff Gahagan. When the town learned its wheelchair ramp was too steep and narrow for people with disabilities, Gahagan wondered how the estimated $10,000 project would be funded. The correctional facility stepped in and completed it for less than $1,500, he said.

Piscataquis County also has benefited from the program, according to Sheriff John Goggin, who said the inmates replaced a leaky roof over the jail in fall 2008 for a savings of $10,000 to $12,000.

“It’s an invaluable service for us, there’s no question about that,” Goggin said. “Without the expertise of that carpentry work and other specialty training that some of these inmates have, it would cost taxpayers a tremendous amount of money to complete some of these projects that are being done and have been done.”

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