HALLOWELL — The Central Maine Pre-Release Center, which has operated on the Stevens School Complex since 1979, is closing.
The program, which has 58 inmates and 21 budgeted staff positions, is being relocated to the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren, said Jody L. Breton, associate commissioner with the Department of Corrections.
Closing the center will have a direct impact on nonprofit organizations that benefit from the free inmate labor and on local businesses that employ those inmates.
“Right now, it looks like we have six employers that could be impacted,” Breton said. “We are committed to these employers and are considering doing transport from Bolduc where it is feasible.”
The Windsor and Augusta food banks, for example, have benefited from such labor. Prisoners at the pre-release center form public restitution work crews and participate in work-release programs, according to description of the center on the department’s website. They have donated an estimated 22,000 hours of free labor annually.
The center also houses prisoners in a residential substance abuse treatment program.
The loss of free inmate labor would mean less fresh paint and maybe fewer improvements at the Windsor Fairgrounds, where inmate crews have worked annually for at least a dozen years.
Bob Brann, a trustee of the Windsor Fair and president of the Windsor Historical Society, said inmates from the pre-release center “painted everything that’s painted down there,” and he’s never had any trouble with them.
“They move stuff for me, dig trenches by hand,” Brann said. “It’s the greatest gift for us. I do a barbecue for them because they like it and it’s a gift to us. It’s a small price.”
Brann said he’s had five or six men working for up to a month at a time and intermittently throughout the summers. “It would really make a big difference to us if they do move to Warren,” he said. “If we’re not able to continue to get them, the place will never look as good it does now.”
While the labor is donated, Brann offers a token of appreciation if the inmates work a week or so.
Breton said the Hallowell center on Winthrop Street was not designed for adult corrections use. The Maine Industrial School for Girls opened on the site in 1875 as “a refuge for viciously inclined girls between the ages of seven and 15 who by forces of circumstances or associations are in manifest danger of becoming outcasts of society,” according to historichallowell.mainememory.net.
It closed as a school for troubled youth in 1970, and became a state office annex before eventually becoming the pre-release center.
“The physical plant has limitations and the Stevens School complex was authorized to be sold in a previous budget initiative,” she said.
Breton said department officials met Tuesday with staff at the center to talk about the relocation, which is expected to take place over the next several months. She said the date of the closing hasn’t been set.
“This was not part of a budget initiative,” Breton said. “We will be transferring the positions and related correctional expenses to other facilities based on operational need.”
The Bolduc operation in Warren is a minimum security/community prison that generally houses prisoners with less than five years to go on their sentences.
The Legislature had previously authorized the Bureau of General Services to sell the 63-acre, state-owned Stevens School campus, which at one time included multiple state offices, by 2011. That did not happen.
Donald McCormack, director of the Bureau of General Services, said Thursday the state still owns the property, which continues to house other state offices, including the Department of Marine Resources and human resources and financial offices for natural resources agencies.
Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, said she wanted to see communication between the community and the state about what is happening there.
“Hopefully something that helps the budget is good land use and good community policy and good correctional policy,” she said.
But that communication apparently has yet to occur. Hallowell City Manager Michael Starn said Wednesday he was unaware that the state intended to close the pre-release center.
Published records show that at least several inmates housed at the site have been charged with escape.
The most recent report shows that Justin Ross of East Wilton walked off a work site in Leeds in September.
Betty Adams — 621-5631