Sunday, March 29, 2015

New pre-release center to be built near existing prison in Windham - By Michelle Libby

Last week two meetings were held to discuss the plans for the new 23,000 square foot women’s pre-release facility that is slated to be built on River Road in front of the Maine Correctional Center (MCC) in South Windham. 
Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections (DoC), led the meeting along with the architect on the project from SMRT, the warden from MCC and Amanda Woolford, director of female services. 
The pre-release program allows women with three years left on their sentence, who have good behavior, the opportunity to transition to the pre-release program. Through this facility they continue to get training, therapy and management, however they are no longer behind bars and are encouraged to work in the community. 

“This is extreme low risk. It’s called community level of custody and there is no risk to the community, but a lot of benefits,” said Fitzpatrick. 

The building will have state of the art security, cameras and alarmed doors. Two officers will be on all the time. They are attempting to pilot a tablet system where they can monitor the facility from anywhere on site. There will be one access point at the main lobby. 

Currently the pre-release program is using a leased building in Alfred that is too small for the women and lacks space for programing. The facility does not have its own medical center. Women who need treatment must be transported to MCC for care. Almost 99 percent of the women come to the program with a trauma background. This program helps them more beyond the trauma. The women who come to the pre-release are motivated to integrate back into society. According to Woolford, they tell her “I have to prove this to my son.” 

“The facility wasn’t designed as a space for this. It’s a struggle every day,” said Woolford. It’s all inclusive care at the new location having access to medical, dental, mental health care and the culinary arts program could share food services with the main facility, she said. 

The new facility will have 68 beds to start with and have the option to add on 24 additional beds if necessary. There will be a kitchen, laundry and program space and well as a visitors’ area. 

“The program space is what I’m really excited about,” said Woolford. “It’s painful. We have 68 people in a tin can.” 

“This isn’t a show you this and sneak this in later,” said Fitzpatrick. “We’re presenting the whole thing A to Z.” 

The DoC came ready to present their best plan to the Windham community. Approximately 20 residents, the legislative delegation all came to listen. DoC had two women speak about their experiences having the women work for them, one at a horse farm and another at a group home for adults with disabilities.
“It’s been a godsend. Every one of the staff said how great it is to have them part of our culture,” said Gail Crowl. 

Of the 300 to 350 women who have been through the program, only 18.5 percent return.
“It’s an opportunity to help women,” said Liz Wisecup. The program is a relationship model to help them deal with society. 

The timeline on the construction is for full completion by December 2016. The building will cost just under $10 million and will be self-funded by the DoC through savings they have for capital improvements, said Fitzpatrick. With the reduction in overtime since Fitzpatrick came on almost a year ago, they have been able to realize the savings.  “It’s not a done deal, but I’m optimistic. It’s a win-win for the community and the women,” said Fitzpatrick.

“It’s going to happen and it’s necessary,” said Rep. Mark Bryant. 

There will be one more community meeting on Saturday, March 28 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Windham High School auditorium.

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