AUGUSTA (WGME) -- Before dawn, Governor Paul LePage emptied a minimum security prison of all the inmates and locked the workers out.
Staff of the Downeast Correctional Facility say they were given no warning of the governor’s order to transfer all 63 inmates. State Police pulled up to the gate at 4:30 Friday morning to load inmates on buses, while employees were given layoff notices and placed on administrative leave.
State Senator Joyce Maker says the facility was fully funded through June and says there was bipartisan support to continue that funding. She says Governor LePage was determined to close Downeast, regardless of who it hurt.
"There's no reason why he has to do it to these people at this time," Maker said. "It's devastating to Washington County."
Governor LePage says he closed Downeast because it was outdated, inefficient and too costly to run.
"I have a jail that costs more to operate than the maximum security prison in the State of Maine," LePage said.
Governor LePage says Downeast was bound to close at some point.
"I saw today as an ability to save the state a little bit more money," LePage said.
The state employees’ union says all 63 inmates were taken to Mountain View Correctional Facility. A union rep. says staff at the Charleston facility have concerns about taking those inmates.
Downeast was established by a state law. The Attorney General's Office says the governor cannot unilaterally amend that law and close Downeast without violating the Constitution, but even critics say the governor does have the power to remove all the inmates.
"Unless we find a loophole here, I don't know that there's any hope," Maker said.
Washington County lawmakers and the state employees’ union both say they're exploring their options to challenge Governor LePage and try and keep the Downeast Correctional Facility open, but both say it will do little good if the governor refuses to house inmates there.