The director of the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport sent a memo to his workers reminding them that Gov. Paul LePage “will be watching closely” when they testified before a legislative panel about a bill to keep the minimum security prison open for another year.

A copy of the memo from David Daniels was obtained by the Press Herald and it also advised the 51 workers at the prison that they could not testify before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Monday while they were on the clock or in uniform.

Besides the prison workers, members of the committee also heard testimony from Washington County business owners and residents who would be affected if LePage follows through with his plan to close the facility.

Several legislators, who either sit on the committee or who were present to support a bill that would keep the prison open through June 30, 2019, said prison workers testified about the memo that Daniels sent after he consulted with Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick.

“To tell employees that they are to testify as private citizens is fine, but the implied threat of the governor will be watching is not OK,” Rep. Robert Alley, D-Beals, said in a statement. “People need to be free to say what they want on their own time. This is something I didn’t think would happen in Maine.”

Alley attended the hearing because he supports L.D. 1704, a bill by a Republican legislator that would keep the prison open until a comprehensive study can be done to determine the impact of closing it.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, would fund the correctional facility through June 30, 2019, and require that a report on the closing impact be completed no later than April 1, 2019. The report must include detailed plans about any proposed changes concerning the prisoner population and the impact that closure would have on other correctional facilities.

Tuell said the state needs to develop a long-range plan for relocating prisoners, determine how the prison’s employees will be compensated if they are laid off, and have a plan in place for disposing of the property at the former Bucks Harbor Air Force Station. “I don’t want to keep fighting this battle every year,” said Tuell, whose legislation has bipartisan support.

However, LePage, a Republican, seems intent on closing the Washington County prison, possibly as early as March. It costs the state about $5 million a year to operate.

Sen. William Diamond, D-Windham, serves on the Criminal Justice Committee. He confirmed that one prison employee, who testified, told the committee that she came at the risk of losing her job. “She gave me the impression that she felt intimidated by the memo,” Diamond said, adding that most of the memo seemed pretty standard – such as not wearing a uniform and not testifying on work time.

Diamond said the bigger issue seems to be that the state has not sent any new prisoners to the Downeast Correctional Facility since October. There are now only 64 prisoners housed there, Diamond said. The facility can house up to 149 inmates.

Diamond said the state is in the process of adding 54 beds for medium and minimum security prisoners at its Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston. Diamond said it would appear the state wants to send Downeast inmates to Mountain View.

“I think it’s clear. The governor is intent on shutting (Downeast) down,” Diamond said.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misattributed quotes to Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick that was actually part of an email from Gov. Paul LePage’s spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz.

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