Committee Gives Conditional Approval to $100 Million Maine Prison Expansion

AUGUSTA, Maine — Plans to issue a $100 million bond to double capacity at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham will move forward with caution after barely gaining committee approval.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved Gov. Paul Lepage’s proposal in a 5-4 vote on the conditions that the project be delayed until July 2015 and the state corrections department provide a feasibility study.

“In my opinion, the new facility has potential in cost savings over the long-term,” said Representative Thomas Tyler, R-Windham.

Some concerns included which facilities will be disposed of and if any members of staff will lose their jobs, Tyler said.

The construction bond, proposed in the two-year budget in January, would replace eight of the 11 buildings that currently function on the 260-acre Windham site. Two housing buildings and a women’s facility would remain on the site if the bill is approved. The new design would save the state approximately $8 million, according to LePage’s bill, and increase capacity from about 600 to 1,200 inmates.

According to Scott Fish, director of special projects for the Maine Department of Corrections, the new prison would allow better accommodation for the state’s changing prison population, which has seen an increase in female inmates, while adding additional programming and a geriatric wing for special care to the aging prison population.

“The prison as it stands now was built over time and in different stages,” he said. “Each decade there was a part added to it. There wasn’t a lot of forethought given as one new section was added on to another.”

The committee is seeking to solidify cost efficiencies and make sure funds are being appropriated properly, Fish said.

“From what I understand they’re trying to just take a breather and make sure that they get a real in depth look at the prison and understand the reasoning for the design and kick the ideas around for a final decision,” Fish said.

Tyler said the Windham community would benefit from a larger prison through an increase in jobs and he believes doubling the inmate population will lead to savings, but the Windham representative still wants to keep the best interest of taxpayers at heart.

“I know we have many older facilities in Maine but want to be sure the savings gained will cover the cost of the new facility and not add any tax burden to the taxpayers,” he said.