Monday, May 20, 2013
AUGUSTA — Some inmates at the Central Maine Pre-Release Center in Hallowell could move to Kennebec County jail in Augusta after the center closes next month, under a proposal state and county corrections officials are discussing.
This photo taken on Jan. 10 shows the Central Maine Pre-Release Center in Hallowell.
Staff file photo by Joe Phelan
State officials also have inquired about whether Augusta would be interested in being home to a new pre-release center, and potentially take all the state inmates now housed in Hallowell, and possibly others from elsewhere in the state as well.
City officials said they think the pre-release center provides a good program but worry that residents may be wary of adding it to Augusta, already home to the county jail, Riverview Psychiatric Center, and group homes housing mental health patients who have committed violent criminal acts. The pre-release program is for felons nearing the end of their prison terms and re-entering society.
City councilors say they can't answer the question of whether the city might be interested in having a new pre-release center in Augusta without more information about the possible location and the inmates it would house. They want input from residents too.
"We need to make sure our constituents are heard on this," said Mayor William Stokes, who is also head of the criminal division of the Maine Attorney General's Office. "Trust me, I think pre-release programs, if properly operated, are a great correctional tool that allows inmates to transition into the community, gives them skills and provides a valuable service to the community. And I don't think any of us question the outstanding work they've done for the city of Augusta. But my real concern is do the citizens of Augusta have a sort of fatigue of being the default site for facilities, state facilities, where no other community steps up."
Stokes, speaking Thursday night as councilors discussed the issue with Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, also referred to the closure last year of two group homes that housed forensic patients on the state-owned former Augusta Mental Health Institute grounds. After the homes on the state's east side campus closed, the patients — some of whom had been found not criminally responsible for violent criminal acts — were moved into two group homes on Glenridge Drive and Green Street.
Stokes said some city residents are "still reeling from being what they consider blindsided by the state" because the patients were moved without prior notice or public input.
A proposal Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty is discussing with state corrections officials could keep some inmates now at the pre-release center in Hallowell in central Maine, at the Kennebec County jail in Augusta.
The proposal, which Liberty plans to discuss with Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte on Monday, would move inmates who were from the central Maine area to the county jail, which also has a pre-release program. Those inmates then would transition back into society from there.
Liberty said there are now 39 inmates at the Hallowell pre-release center, five of whom are from central Maine.
The pre-release center can hold about 60 inmates.
Liberty said he was told the rest of the inmates now at the Hallowell center would move to the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren.
The preliminary proposal stems from a philosophy that it would be better for inmates to transition from imprisonment through pre-release and back into society in their own communities, Liberty said. He said the program could expand later to include more county jails taking pre-release prisoners from their areas.
Liberty said the proposal also could result in some state employees from the pre-release center in Hallowell also coming to the Kennebec County jail, to oversee the state prisoners.
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