Gov. Paul LePage’s argument that Downeast Correctional Facility is too expensive to run compared with other Department of Corrections facilities is having holes poked in it — by the Department of Corrections.

The governor has long cited the cost of the Machiasport prison as the core reason he ordered its sudden closure in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 9. That argument traces back to early in his administration and continued through Tuesday, when he told reporters outside the Blaine House that the Washington County prison “costs more to hold and imprison inmates than the maximum-security prison in Warren.”

That was definitely true in past years, but not in 2017. According to data from the Department of Corrections, which were part of a court filing in the ongoing Maine Superior Court case over whether the prison should be reopened, DCF cost more than $47,000 per prisoner per year to operate from 2007 through 2010 — more expensive by that measure than Maine State Prison, Maine Correctional Center in Windham and the Charleston Correctional Facility.

But in 2017, the cost of running DCF was $41,582 per prisoner per year, compared with $46,162 at Maine State Prison and $54,201 at Maine Correctional Center. Only Bolduc Correctional Center in Warren, a minimum-security facility that runs job training programs for inmates, was cheaper than DCF among the Department of Corrections’ facilities, at $32,505 per year.

“The per-prisoner cost has been the governor’s singular talking point,” Chris Gardner, who chairs the Washington County Commission, said Tuesday. “This is their information. It’s the second-cheapest facility the state has. I just want to say, ‘Governor, facts matter.’”

Gardner isn’t the only one seizing on the data. Former Republican Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry joined the growing chorus Wednesday morning on Twitter, writing that LePage’s “vendetta against Downeast Correctional Facility is proven faulty.”

“Time for the Legislature to buck LePage and fund the prison,” he wrote.

When asked to explain why LePage uses the per-prisoner cost argument when the most recent data contradict it, spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz provided a Department of Corrections statement that argues DCF is indeed the most expensive prison facility in Maine if you average costs over a decade.

“When looking across the last 10 years, Downeast Correctional Facility costs more to operate on a per-inmate basis than the Maine State Prison,” reads the statement. “Specifically, across the last 10 years, DCF cost an average of $44,148 per inmate, per year while Maine State Prison cost an average of $43,773 per inmate, per year.”

Will this data save the prison? A judge has ordered LePage to reopen the prison, which his legal team said Tuesday would happen by week’s end with five employees and a “minimal” number of inmates. Meanwhile, a legislative attempt to appropriate another $5.5 million to maintain the facility into the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, is likely dead but is still an open issue.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.