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Maine’s tough-on-crime talking governor to release inmates

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – Maine’s Republican governor, who once joked about using the guillotine to execute drug dealers, announced a plan this week to release an unknown number of “lower-risk” prisoners from the state’s correctional facilities.

State prisoner advocates applauded Gov. Paul LePage’s idea, while some fellow Republicans questioned it.

Maine is seeing a drug crisis that state and law enforcement officials say is fueling crime and a rise in drug overdose deaths.

LePage’s proposal is in sharp contrast to his history of tough talk on crime. He once joked about using the guillotine to execute drug dealers and denied that he encouraged vigilante justice with his call to “load up and get rid of the drug dealers.” He also suggested greater use of ankle bracelets for prisoners struggling with addiction and mental illness.

Some Republicans worry about the impact releasing some prisoners would have on local communities.

“If he lets them go into our communities down here, we’ll have to fight back however we can do it,” said Republican Jeffrey Davis, a selectman in the town of Machiasport, which relies on a local minimum-security prison for jobs and services.

Both Davis and union leaders said they are exploring legal action in light of LePage’s recently announced plans to shut down the facility in that community and release or transfer inmates. On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate overwhelmingly voted in support of funding the prison for two more years.

Anti-mass incarceration groups nationwide have pushed for programs that move non-violent offenders out of jails and into local communities.

Joseph Jackson, coordinator of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said he supported the decision to reduce Maine’s prisoner population. But, he said the Machiasport prison is one of the state’s few facilities that help transition prisoners back into society. He said released inmates will need help with everything from housing to medical care to getting IDs.

“We don’t do enough to transition prisoners from incarceration back to society,” he said.

It’s unknown when or how many inmates will be released, or from which prisons. The administration also has not disclosed how it will determine if someone is a “lower-risk” offender.

LePage’s office said the Department of Labor will help Maine State Prison system inmates find “pathways to employment.”

Any released offender would face conditions like refraining from criminal conduct and completing required substance abuse treatment.

Republican state Sen. Joyce Maker said LePage’s decision makes him appear “soft on crime.”

“Does he want to be known as letting out the most prisoners into the Maine community?” Maker asked.

LePage has the executive clemency power to issue pardons or commute sentences of offenders – a process Jackson said typically takes months. He said prisoners began the paperwork process on Tuesday.

R. Christopher Almy, the district attorney for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, said that he and other district attorneys were asked for input on LePage’s plan, and that he respects the governor’s prerogative. But he said he hopes LePage “gives advance notice to crime victims or others affected by those crimes.”

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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