Group representing Maine prisoners to hold public forum in Milo

Posted June 08, 2011, at 7:49 p.m.

MILO, Maine —Proposed legislation that would allow Maine prisoners to be boarded out of state, which in turn would help facilitate the construction and operation of private prisons in state, is under attack by a coalition representing Maine prisoners, their families and friends.

The Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition has been holding public forums in an effort to seek the defeat of LD 1095, known as the “private prison bill.” Meetings have already been held in Pittsfield and Dover-Foxcroft and a third is planned at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 9, at the Milo Town Hall.

It was Milo town officials who prompted the proposed legislation after discussions they had with Corrections Corporation of America to build a prison in Milo stalled, in part because Maine does not now allow its inmates to be boarded out of state. CCA has expressed little interest in building a facility in a state that does not allow its inmates to be boarded at CCA’s prisons elsewhere in the country. On the town’s behalf, state Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, submitted LD 1095, which is now before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Milo Town Manager Jeff Gahagan believes the coalition is misguided. He said that while the town has had discussions with Corrections Corporation of America, the company is looking at all of its options throughout the country.

“We’re not in any type of serious negotiations with them or anything like that at this point of time,” he said. “They’re [the coalition] acting like we’re ready to break ground tomorrow and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Not wanting to wait until a private prison is shovel ready in state, the coalition is working to persuade residents in rural towns that a private prison will do more harm than the good of providing jobs.

Becca Sender, a coalition member from Waldo, said “approximately 80 percent of privatized prison jobs go to people from away.” Other problems private prisons bring include a decline in real estate values and increases in chemical addictions and domestic violence, according to a prepared press release. The bill also would allow the state to board some Maine inmates in out of state facilities which would create a hardship to their families, she noted.

“If people really looked at what has happened in other rural towns they would ask their business leaders to stop such plans immediately,” Sender said in the release.

Gahagan, who attended an earlier forum held by the coalition and plans to attend the session in his hometown, said the coalition’s efforts have nothing to do with a community’s effort to provide jobs and stimulate the economy. He believes the goal of the effort is to keep Maine inmates in the state.

“They’re talking about prisoner abuse and those kinds of things, and I really feel that they need to be talking with folks in Washington and Augusta,” he said Wednesday. “I see their concerns but I think they’re using the wrong forum to do that.”

Town officials would be remiss if they didn’t do everything they could to bring jobs to their communities, especially in these trying times, according to Gahagan. If and when discussions become serious about a private prison or any other economic development in Milo, Gahagan said it would be up to local residents to decide and not people from outside to the region.

“Trying to come into this town or any other to block any kind of progress or economic development, I just don’t feel that’s right although they are entitled to their opinion,” Gahagan said.

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