Lawmakers are being lobbied aggressively from both sides, as the fight to close the prison nears a critical point.
It was mid-afternoon Thursday when a Department of Corrections bus rolled through the gates in Machiasport to unload eight minimum-security prisoners.
As part of Governor Paul LePage's self-styled minimal effort to comply with a court order to reopen the facility five corrections officers reported for work Thursday for the first time since February 9. "We're very concerned because there's no way you can work a 7/24 shift with five guards. They're going to be the only one there, which means if something happens there's no one else around to come to their aid," said Jim Mackie, a representative of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Mackie said, "The union intends to file a complaint with the Department of Labor citing unsafe working conditions.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette met with many of the terminated corrections officers in Machias Wednesday to hear their rationale for keeping the facility open. Fredette had strongly supported the governor's efforts to close the prison, but after hearing from the displaced workers, "I'm truly undecided exactly right now where to go with this."
The Maine State Employees Association's political director said she was pleased to hear Fredette is re-examining his position on the issue. "So not only does he need to do the right thing, but as a leader, he needs to bring members of his caucus right with him to make sure Downeast Correctional stays open," said Mary Anne Turowski, M.S.E.A. political director.
The governor has said he closed Downeast Correctional Facility because it was the least cost-efficient prison in the state.
"I am continuing to get more information. Particularly on the department's own numbers on the real cost of having inmates there, which appear to be lower than the most of the other correctional facilities," said Fredette during a Thursday morning interview.
A vote is expected in the house Tuesday whether to fund D.C.F. through June 2019. But, Fredette said, the critical vote will come after the governor vetoes it. That vote might not happen for a couple more weeks.