MACHIASPORT— A new, smaller work-release facility is being built at the site of a prison that closed over the objections by the local community in Down East Maine.

The Downeast Correctional Center housed about 140 inmates before it was abruptly closed by then-Gov. Paul LePage, who sought to consolidate and cut costs. His administration ignited a firestorm by quietly removing inmates in 2018 despite lawmakers’ pleas to keep it open.

The prison, which will carry the same name, will house around 50 low-risk male inmates, who will be eligible to leave to work at jobs each day and then return in the evening, the Bangor Daily News reported.

“There’s a lot of excitement around it,” said Republican Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, who’s pleased with progress.

The prison’s work-release program was in high demand and enjoyed strong support from the local officials when the prison closed. Area businesses have been unable to use low-risk state inmates to boost their employee rosters since then-Gov. Paul LePage closed the prison in 2018.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills was lobbied by the prison’s supporters, and she agreed to build a smaller work-release facility after negotiations. The old prison was razed and construction began on the new facility last fall.

Local businesses are eager to tap into the workforce and to see prisoners getting a chance at starting over, Tuell said. “It’s going to be the blueprint for facilities going forward,” he said.

The rebuilt prison should be ready to accept inmates by late this fall, “though we are at the mercy of extenuating circumstances associated with COVID-19,” said Anna Black, the department’s director of government affairs.

The cost of building the new facility has been capped at $8 million but, according to a Department of Corrections official, the state expects it to be completed under budget.

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