AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Corrections plans to relocate its prerelease center from Hallowell to the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren by this spring.
Commissioner Joseph Ponte met Tuesday with staff at the Central Maine Pre-Release Center to inform them of the plan. As of Monday, 58 prisoners were assigned to the center, according to Jody Breton, an associate commissioner at the Department of Corrections.
The prerelease center, which has operated from the former Stevens School property in Hallowell since 1979, is classified as “minimum security/community,” Breton said. Prisoners at the center participate in work release, substance abuse recovery and community restitution programs. There is no fence around the compound.
The move isn’t a direct effort to save money or cut staff positions, according to Breton. “We’ll have the same number of inmates,” she said.
The relocation derives more from uncertainty about the future of the Hallowell site — which the state has been trying to sell for more than a year — and availability of more appropriate space at Bolduc, Breton said.
“This is not a budget initiative,” she said. “Our intent is to transfer the positions and related correctional expenses, based on operational needs.”
The relocation does not require Board of Corrections approval, according to Breton.
The Maine Department of Corrections contracts with Correct Care Solutions to run the substance abuse recovery program in Hallowell. Approximately 18 inmates currently take part in that program, Breton said. Corrections officials started negotiations Wednesday with Correct Care Solutions to move substance abuse recovery services to the Bolduc facility, a similar minimum-security program also known as “The Farm.”
Educational services similar to those offered in Hallowell, such as GED tutoring, are in place at Bolduc, Breton said.
Jim Mackie, a spokesman for the union that represents the 21 Department of Corrections staff who work at the Hallowell site, said the union is scurrying to help workers find new positions within the department. Some of the staff assigned to the prerelease center have worked there for decades, so moving to another state correctional facility — most likely in Windham or Warren — will create hardships, he said.
Breton said the administration wants to minimize those hardships. “We are committed to work with the union to find solutions,” she said. “It’s our intent to help employees and prisoners in this transition.”
Mackie expects “an outcry” from Hallowell and surrounding communities over the loss of the inmates’ community service. “There will be a big impact on the community,” he said.
The Department of Corrections estimates that prisoners at the center provide about 22,000 hours of free labor annually to food banks and other community groups in the Hallowell area.
Corrections officials spent a year and a half looking without success for an alternate site in central Kennebec County, Breton said. She was uncertain Wednesday whether corrections staff had conversed with municipal officials about the impact of the relocation.
Administrators plan to ask staff to help develop a timeline for the move, with an aim to complete the transition in the spring. Some of the inmates are committed to work for local employers, who pay them, and the department doesn’t want to leave those employers in the lurch, Breton said.
“We want it to go as smoothly as possible for everyone involved,” she said.