PORTLAND, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage is preparing to grant more prisoners early releases, according to Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick.
The governor’s staff are now reviewing the list of Maine’s female prisoners for non-violent offenders who could be let out early and intends to look at the county jail population when that is done, Fitzpatrick said Tuesday on WVOM, a Bangor radio station.
In late May, LePage commuted the sentences of 17 male prisoners, cutting days, months and in one case more than a year off sentences on conditions including that the former inmates report to probation officers and look for work.
Fitzpatrick said that granting early releases to people in the county jails could help ease overcrowding in that system and that LePage has opposed commuting the sentences of any violent criminals or people convicted of selling drugs.
The large number of commutations are a first for Maine and are a “pretty progressive initiative” from the Republican governor, Fitzpatrick said.
LePage, a conservative who has long voiced a tough-on-crime philosophy, is pondering conditional commutations for other prisoners even as he pushes to close the Downeast Correctional Facility. The governor has long argued that running the Machiasport prison is a bad use of state money, but he’s consistently been met with staunch, bipartisan opposition from lawmakers who want it kept open.
LePage has said that the commutations are meant to get more workers into seasonal industries that are short on labor. This framing has won him favorable coverage from national media outlets and cautious praise from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
Fitzpatrick said that 11 of the 17 released prisoners have already found jobs.All the 17 have received help finding work from the departments of corrections and labor, and the six without jobs are looking for them, Fitzpatrick said.
The governor has denied that the unusual commutations are related to his push to close the Machiasport prison, but Fitzpatrick acknowledged that state is short on prison beds. There are 75 male inmates at Downeast.
“Beds are always a concern in the prison system,” he said.
There are more than 2,400 inmates in Maine’s adult prisons, according to a state prisoner database.
Less than a week after LePage commuted the sentences of 17 inmates from prisons across the state, 15 inmates were moved from Downeast to other corrections facilities.