LePage, Milo officials discuss private prison

Posted Dec. 08, 2010, at 9:20 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 08, 2010, at 10:46 p.m.

MILO, Maine — He hasn’t been sworn in to office yet, but Gov.-elect Paul LePage is already following up on his pledge to talk with Milo officials about their efforts to locate a private prison in the town.

LePage was told during the campaign that without any help from the state, the town had worked two years to persuade the Tennessee-based Corrections Corp. of America, or CCA, to build a prison in the town’s industrial park.

The discussions ended, however, when the state showed little interest in partnering with the company to house state inmates at its facilities because existing law would not allow it.

Hearing about Milo’s efforts, LePage said last month he would do whatever it took to help the town, a promise he began to fulfill Tuesday when he met with Milo and CCA officials to discuss the matter.

CCA, which builds, manages and operates correctional and detention facilities on behalf of the federal Bureau of Prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service, was interested in building a facility in the Northeast, and the Milo site was appealing enough for the company to send in an engineering firm to inspect it in July 2008.

Armed with that interest and the possible creation of up to 300 jobs, the town reached out to state officials for support, but no support came, according to Milo Town Manager Jeff Gahagan and Fred Trask, a member of the town’s industrial committee who first approached CCA.

David Farmer, a spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci, said last month that CCA told the governor “straight out that unless we were willing, as a state, to send prisoners to their institutions or at least let them compete, they would not build in Maine.”

Maine law prohibits inmates from being housed in a for-profit prison either inside or outside the state, he noted.

Baldacci proposed legislation in the biennial budgets for 2008-09 and 2010-11 that would have allowed the state to house prisoners at out-of-state, private prisons as a way to reduce prison costs, Farmer said, but the proposals were defeated in the Legislature. Without that commitment from Maine, CCA said it wasn’t willing to come into the state and make that investment, Farmer said.

LePage wants to help bring economic development to the state, Dan Demeritt, the governor-elect’s communications director, said Wednesday. Demeritt said that at this week’s meeting in Augusta, LePage talked with Milo officials about their efforts to entice CCA to the community. Later, in a separate meeting, LePage talked with CCA officials about the company’s interest in the Milo location and about the possibility of cost savings if some Maine prisoners were boarded in CCA facilities.

“He [LePage] talked about getting the process going again,” Demeritt said. The CCA officials plan to return to their headquarters and talk about reviving the dialogue, he said.

Gahagan said Milo officials came away from Tuesday’s meeting with a very positive feeling.

“We brought him up to speed on the history of how we have been trying to work with CCA to come to Milo, and he said he was very interested and very willing to try to help to see if there is some interest there,” Gahagan said.

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