Gov. Paul LePage’s administration will recall five employees of the shuttered Downeast Correctional Facility by the end of this week to comply with a judge’s order to reopen the prison, but the issue is likely to end up back in court, according to an attorney for plaintiffs in the case.
LePage’s attorney, Patrick Strawbridge, said in a Tuesday email to attorney David Webbert that the five employees will “oversee a small population of inmates.” He offered no more information on the number of inmates who would be housed in Machiasport. When it closed, the facility had 63 inmates and 46 employees who were given layoff notices.
“No more is required by the order, and I will note that your demand that all employees be restored with back pay goes even beyond the order your clients proposed to the court,” wrote Strawbridge in the email, which was provided to the Bangor Daily News by Webbert.
Last week, Maine Superior Court Judge Michaela Murphy ruled that the LePage administration didn’t have the authority to close the prison without legislative approval or until funding runs out on June 30. However, she ruled that the courts can’t tell the Department of Corrections how many staff or prisoners to assign to the facility.
On Friday, Webbert demanded that the Machiasport prison be restored to staffing and inmate levels that were present on Feb. 8, the day before the LePage administration closed it suddenly in the pre-dawn hours and laid off all staff effective March 3. He said two labor unions — that represent former employees and who are his clients — intend to file a motion “to clarify that recalling 9 percent of employees is not in compliance” with the court order.
Strawbridge fired back in his email.
“The order specifically defers to the commissioner to decide how to operate the facility, and nowhere does it purport to require an award of back pay, much less and award of back pay to employees who the commissioner has determined are not necessary to operate the facility,” Strawbridge wrote.
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