Sunday, June 2, 2013

Correctional Center opens showroom in Windham by Leah Hoenen

The Maine Correctional Showroom has opened a new retail store along Route 302 where handmade furniture, woodworks, gifts and more are for sale.

The center formerly sold goods made by inmates of the Maine Correctional Center in Windham at its outlet store on Mallison Road.

On a rainy Saturday morning, cars streamed into the store’s parking lot minutes after opening and soon Bob Walden, Industries Program Director, was speaking with a customer about the importance of meaningful work.

Customers milled around the showroom, inspecting novelties and gifts, birdhouses and wooden toys, and a variety of furniture pieces. The corrections department hopes the new facility will allow it to greatly expand offerings.

Industrial programs are common in correctional facilities across the country, but none are as diversified as this one, said Walden, standing before shelf after shelf of handmade products. Behind glossy turned wooden bowls sits a model of the U.S.S. Constitution, which he said took more than 300 hours to create.

The Correctional Center in Windham has had an industries program for about a decade, said Walden.
“There has been an industries program in all five adult facilities dating to 1824,” he said. The revenue from retail helps offset the cost of running the program, he said, and the corrections department tries to offer as many positions in the industries programs as possible. Currently, 220 inmates work in industries programs statewide, spending six to eight hours a day learning and improving their skills, said Walden.

To be eligible to participate, inmates must maintain a clean disciplinary record and follow their case plans, Walden said. Industrial programs include woodworking, textiles and machining.

The program offers industrial training and chances for advancement within the system, Walden said.
Inmates earn between 35 cents and $3 an hour depending on their skills and responsibilities, he said. They must save money and what they earn helps pay debts, such as crime restitution and child support, Walden said. “They have to make good on their financial responsibilities on the street first,” he said, noting that any additional money may be spent at the correctional center’s canteen.

“Woodworking has a very therapeutic aspect. A great deal of creativity can come with it once you have the basics. They can be very proud of what they are able to create, and we know there is no limit to what you can create with wood,” Walden said.

Maine has begun to track the recidivism rate of those who worked in industries, but won’t have data for some years to come, said Walden. National data, however, suggests recidivism drops in half for those who participated in industrial programs for two or more years, he said.

The new store is the contact point for anyone interested in having furniture refinished or reupholstered, as well as for those who are looking for custom pieces, said Walden.

Walden said the center is allowed to sell to the public, but strives to not create competition with private business. Instead, he said, the woodshop can enhance local businesses through wholesale or special work for other businesses.

For now, the store will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Eventually, it will be open 7 days a week.

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