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Legislative Committee Halts LePage Windham Prison Remodel Plan
04/17/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

A legislative committee has put the brakes on the LePage Administration's plan to remodel the state prison in Windham. The administration wants to issue a 100-million dollar bond to replace most of the buildings at the facility. Corrections officials said the upgrades are necessary to cut long-term costs and add a geriatric wing and more vocational programming. But, the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee wants to see an in-depth study, by the Corrections Department, that will prove the renovations are necessary.

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Legislature Halts LePage's Windham Prison Plan Listen
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For Representative Thomas Tyler, supporting a $100 million overhaul of the Windham prison would seem, on the surface at least, like a no brainer. Tyler, a Republican, represents District 110, which includes Windham. A long-term construction project could mean jobs for constituents in his district. But last week, Tyler joined a majority on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in voting NOT to fast track the prison overhaul.

"You know, I'm not opposed to building a new prison for, you know, cost savings down the road, over time, if they can prove their cost savings will pay for it," said Tyler. "I do not want to burden the tax payers."

Under the proposed redesign, the aging, medium security facility would no longer feature long hallways with cells. Inmates, instead, would live in units built around a central meeting area. Corrections officials said this would allow the prison to use fewer guards to house twice as many inmates. The estimated savings of $8 million per year could be used to pay down the bond. But last week, Representative Tyler and four other lawmakers on Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee decided they couldn't just take the department at its word.

"We want to see it on paper," said Tyler. "We want to see a study done."

So the committee has recommended to the legislature's Appropriations Committee that the bond be issued a little over a year from now, after the Corrections Department delivers a feasibility study on the project.

"So it's really not going to effect the project much," said Tyler. "But it does give them more information to look at."

Associate Commissioner Jody Breton said the Department of Corrections is happy to come back to the committee with that information.

"Right now, we have a lot of very small facilities throughout the state that were not built for correctional facilities," Breton said. "They were former bases, used for correctional facilities. They do not have the sight lines. They do not have the programming space."

Governor Paul LePage had wanted to see the bond approved this summer. An e-mail and call to LePAge's spokesperson for comment were not returned by airtime.

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