The Maine Correctional Center in South Windham will soon be receiving state money to construct new facilities and renovate the deteriorating structures at its River Road location.
On Tuesday, Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill to issue $149 million in government facilities bonds to both the Windham prison and a facility in Washington County, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
Jody Breton, deputy commissioner at the Department of Corrections, said renovating the prison has been on the department’s to-do list for more than a decade. The department first unveiled a $173 million proposal for renovating the center two years ago, which has been refined a number of times.
The plan for the center was whittled in the Legislature, according to Breton, by stacking the housing and programming units into multiple floors of one building “to decrease the footprint and decrease costs” of the center.
The renovations will expand the center to include facilities for different populations, including those with mental health issues and drug addiction, geriatric inmates and women. The renovations will address security issues at the prison by widening the lines of sight inside cell blocks and erecting a second fence around the facility’s exterior. As well, the prison, parts of which were constructed in the 1920s, will be renovated and brought up to modern standards.
The plans do not include constructing an intensive mental-health unit at Windham’s correctional center for forensic patients committed to Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, said Breton. Forensic patients are people who have been found not guilty by the court due to their mental health.
Earlier this year, LePage discussed moving patients who prove too violent for the Riverview psychiatric center’s staff to a prison environment, but no formal plans were made.
Correctional Center Warden Scott Landry said although there will be a lot of work necessary before they break ground on the facility, “right now we’re very excited this is a possibility. These renovations are not just physical, but also programmatic. We’ll expand what we’re able to provide for services.”
Landry expressed gratitude “to the town of Windham and the communities for their support.”
The next step in the project, according to Landry, is to put out a request for proposals for engineering and architectural services, including electricity and plumbing.
Once the department has received bids for the project, Breton said, it will determine how to allocate the money between Windham’s prison and the Washington County facility.
Windham’s legislative delegation were happy that the prison will receive funds for renovations. Reps. Mark Bryant and Patrick Corey and Sen. Bill Diamond have toured the center and in February testified in support of the prison renovations.
Bryant said the renovations are “a positive thing for the state of Maine. The building is in dire need of renovations.”
In developing the plans for renovations, Bryant said Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick “listened to people in the community and designed with their input in mind. It made a big difference in their acceptance of the facility.”
In particular, moving some of the prison structures so they would be less disruptive to neighbors – such as the parking lot and the spotlights around the perimeter of the facility – showed the department had “the community’s interest in mind,” Bryant said.
Diamond said he was pleased that the bill had passed.
“It’s something all of us felt was very important because of the conditions at the prison. We know it’s going to take a while but there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Corey, who lives within a mile of the prison on River Road, was also satisified with the renovation plan.
“I think it’s wonderful,” he said. The new facility “is going to be a better neighbor for people in South Windham.”
Because of the additional security, “it’ll be a nicer place for people to work,” Corey added.
A men’s cell in the highest-security dorm at Windham’s correctional center is among the facilities constructed nearly 100 years ago. According to Gov. Paul LePage’s office, the center will be receiving government money to repair and replace outdated structures such as these.
In one of the Correctional Center’s oldest facilities, pigeons can crawl through cracks in the windows on the third floor. Warden Scott Landry said these rooms, which contain outdated prison cells, are no longer used by the center.