A Camden woman is planning to turn a home on Talbot Avenue in Rockland into a transitional living home for recently released inmates. Credit: Lauren Abbate

ROCKLAND, Maine —The prospect of a reentry house for inmates in a residential neighborhood on Talbot Avenue has spurred impassioned commentary.

But stakeholders in Rockland, including law enforcement agencies and local representatives, think it’s time for a well-informed discussion on the subject. They’ll host a public forum at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at First Universalist Church in Rockland, 345 Broadway, to address questions and concerns about these types of homes, which aim to provide a safe space for recently released inmates as they transition to their new lives outside of prison.

“I think this forum is an opportunity for us to sit down with the community, have an open dialogue and address any concerns that they have,” said Rockland Police Chief Chris Young, who will serve on the panel along with Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll, Maine Prisoner Re-entry Network founder Bruce Noddin and Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, D-Rockland.

Reentry residences share similarities with recovery residences, which provide sober and stable living environments for individuals who are recovering from substance use.

But the proposed residence on Talbot Avenue, called Unity House, has been met with resistance from neighbors who received almost no information about the plan from Kathryn Matlack, the Camden woman who’s proposing the project.

It’s unclear if Matlack will be at the September forum, but Noddin said the Talbot Avenue residence has brought the conversation surrounding these types of facilities to the forefront.

“This discussion is about the future of such houses in the Rockland area. If there are to be houses like this, which I really believe are a benefit to the community, then we need to inform the public of the benefits, and we have to alleviate fears,” he said.

In nearly every community where reentry and recovery homes are proposed, Noddin said neighbors typically have reservations. A similar situation is playing out surrounding a proposed recovery residence in Caribou.

Over the past two months, city officials in Rockland have grappled with how to regulate these types of group homes. Ultimately, the City Council rejected an ordinance amendment that would place tighter restrictions on the properties.

While communities struggle with how to regulate and accept reentry and recovery residences, there is a great need for them. According to the Maine Department of Corrections, about 1,200 inmates are released annually from Maine prisons. This figure does not include the people released from the state’s county jails each year.

“The reality is that they’re here,” Young said. “They have paid their debt to society for the crimes they’ve committed. We can either help them, or they can be left to their own devices.”

Upon release, Noddin says finding safe and affordable housing is the top challenge facing inmates. By having access to quality recovery and reentry homes, Noddin said the inmates have a higher chance of success.

But some residents on Talbot Avenue worry about their safety as ex-convicts integrate into their neighborhood. They also worry about how the site will affect surrounding property values.

Noddin said educating people around the process of incarceration and release is the only way to alleviate these types of fears. Many reentry homes have restrictions on the types of offenders that are allowed to reside in the home. Additionally, prior to release Noddin said inmates have likely completed criminal-thinking courses, mental health and substance use programming as well as vocational programming.

Rockland is in a unique position in terms of accepting inmates upon release, according to Noddin. Maine State Prison and Bolduc Correctional Facility are in nearby Warren.

Through the work-release program at Bolduc, inmates are released into the surrounding communities every day to go to work. Noddin said many of these inmates are offered full-time jobs upon their release but are in need of a place to live in the area.

“We want the Rockland community to be a reentry and recovery ready community,” Noddin said. “We need to be really honest with people about what the process is [for inmates making reentry into society.]”