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Upgrades at Maine Correctional Center in Windham near completion

The Maine Correctional Center in Windham has been undergoing a $149.7 million construction and demolition project since 2018.

WINDHAM, Maine — For about four years, work has been going on at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham to upgrade its facility. After all, the original prison was built more than a hundred years ago in 1919. 

On Tuesday, September 20, staff members with the Maine Department of Corrections were ready to give a tour of the work and share it with our state.

Gary LaPlante, the director of operations for the Maine DOC, said demolition of the original prison began in 2018, as did construction of the new utility plant. In 2019, his team realized they were over-budget — so, they had to scale the $225 million project back to their limit of $149.7 million and do some redesigning.

LaPlante said the work, though, was desperately needed.

"The old infrastructure that we replaced had leaking pipes. It had air coming in through the windows in the winter time, which was uncomfortable for the residents," LaPlante said. "The buildings themselves just had poor sightlines. It was not a good security type of environment."

LaPlante said labor and material shortages brought on by COVID-19 have affected them to some extent, but they're on track to have this project completed by next year. He said the reaction from the MCC community has been positive so far.

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"What I’ve heard from staff who have spoken with the residents is they’re really impressed with the environment," LaPlante said. "They’re impressed with the larger rooms that they have available to them. We used wooden doors versus steel doors to give it more of a normalized type of setting."

Along with new housing units, the upgrades have also included a new visitor's center, a new kitchen, new medical rooms, new education settings, and a new library — to name a few. The hope is this work will allow residents to become even more successful once they leave the facility. Maine DOC Commissioner Randall Liberty said that will, in turn, help future generations.

"I think it’s important that viewers today understand that we need to invest in correctional facilities if we want good outcomes," Commissioner Liberty said. 

Commissioner Liberty said right now, the recidivism rate in Maine is around 30 percent over a three-year period, which is relatively low compared to the national rate of 65 percent. He said the Maine DOC acknowledges residents often come to prison with an array of issues — and giving them a second chance will help keep communities safer.

"We know that people arrive here with mental health issues, substance use disorder, trauma, neglect, poverty, learning disabilities — all of those things," Commissioner Liberty said, later adding, "Our community is much safer when an individual is provided the opportunities to redeem themselves and go through a restorative justice program."

Ryan Thornell, deputy commissioner with the Maine DOC, said roughly 61 percent of men and women who are incarcerated need treatment for substance use disorder. He said the MCC is doing so in an "evidence-based" manner with medication and counseling, thanks in part to this project. 

"The new design has much more of an open-campus environment, which is what we want," Thornell said. "It allows for individuals to come out, interact, build a community within the facility, and receive services."

RELATED: Maine county jail staffing shortages hurt corrections officers, inmates

The upgraded facility is also a better setting for the education programs at the MCC. Peter Servidio is an educator there and has been in that position for five years. He said almost all of the men who join the program while in prison complete it and stay involved. He said he's excited about the new environment. 

"The old building was a little dilapidated," Servidio said. "We're still doing the same great work, but now it’s kind of nice for them to come in — and for a while during education, they’re here. They’re working on their education. It’s almost like they were taken away from prison for a little while."

Servidio said about 30 men at the MCC are enrolled full-time in college, 20 or more men are in the college-transitions program, and one man is pursuing a master's degree. He said a lot of the residents who participate in the education programs succeed.

"We see that most of the residents who come to us and have done education don’t come back," Servidio said. 

The Maine DOC team said the goal is to turn the property where the old prison sat into a sustainable garden for the residents to tend. There are about 463 residents currently in the Maine Correctional Center.

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