After 27 years as a minimum to medium security prison, Down East Correctional Facility in Machiasport officially changed to a minimum security prison in June of this year. The difference will affect the type of inmate housed at the prison. It is not the crime that dictates the minimum security status, but rather that the inmates will be serving the last three years of their prison sentence, explains Director Scott Jones.
The prison will remain at its capacity of 149 prisoners. Because of the change in status, the number of staff will be reduced from 68 to 55.
Jones notes that concerns felt by community members about the change in status are to be expected. "There was concern right here in Machiasport. It's a tough situation." However, Jones says, "These people will be getting out in three years anyway. That's the reality of it." He adds that 95 to 96% of the state's prisoners are going to be released at some point. "They are going to be neighbors again. We need to prepare them with job and life skills."
The prison will be preparing inmates for their release, primarily through programs that teach basic life skills as well as workplace skills, such as welding, that can translate into employment and careers. "A lot of these guys have not had a lot of that [basic life skills] in their lives," Jones says. "If you're given a responsibility, you're given rewards, but there are things you have to do to get those awards. Something you have to see through from start to finish."
The "seeing things through" is the goal of the prison's programs and the case‑plan attached to each inmate. If an inmate does not follow through on the goals of the case plan, such as getting a GED or showing up for scheduled work, he or she will not be allowed furlough, participation on community work crews or other rewards that entail positions of trust for being responsible. Sex offenders are not permitted to participate on community work crews; they can only participate in programs that are within the confines of the prison.
Prison programs include: inmate led art and guitar classes; the motor‑pool service, which fixes fleet vehicles belonging to the state; garments industry, which manufactures the blue jeans and coats worn by inmates throughout the entire Maine prison system; basic carpentry and woodworking that then allow some inmates to go on to crew on community work projects; and the vocational welding program.
Prisoners "from all over the state" request to be moved to the Machiasport facility so that they can participate in the welding program, Jones says. It builds fire trucks, just finished repairing an airboat for the warden service, constructs dog kennels for the warden service and "just about anything in metal work," the prison director says. "The instructor does a great job. If the prisoner makes a mistake, it's got to be taken apart and done over."
The community work crew put in 25,000 hours in 2011. "A lot of stuff we do just wouldn't get done" if it weren't done by the crews, Jones notes. A crew just finished taking out the docks at the nonprofit Greenland Point Center. Jones explains that a municipal, civic or nonprofit entity can request work crew service. Crews are made of five to six inmates, and they have repaired roofs, painted schools and mowed cemeteries for Memorial Day services.
With the all‑minimum security change the director expects that the following year will see 25 to 30 groups of inmates perform work for communities in the county.