The Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center accepted its first two inmates Jan. 19, marking the beginning of operations for the facility that was previously Waldo County Jail. MCRRC has been a work in progress since June 2009, when Waldo County was chosen as the site for a pilot pre-release program as part of the statewide consolidation of state prison and county jail systems.

According to Jail Administrator Robert Walker, the “residents,” as they are called, were chosen specifically for the program based on a number of qualifications, including the type of sentence and the services they were determined to need to return to civilian life with the least chance of recidivism.

One of the new arrivals came from Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset; the other was serving time at the Waldo County Jail before the consolidation went into effect. Walker said, in the next week, he expects another resident from Hancock County Jail and three to four from the Charleston Correctional Facility.

Within the consolidated corrections system, Waldo County is part of a six-county region. Residents of MCRRC will arrive from around the region and return to their home communities at the end of their terms.

Security at MCRRC is handled by county employees, as it was when the building was a jail. Five Volunteers of America staff members — a programming director, two case managers, a community resource coordinator and a mental health and substance abuse specialist — work on site. VOA will contract some services from outside organizations like Restorative Justice.

Programming Director Michael Tausek said the residents will keep a schedule of 40 to 50 structured hours per week. The core of the programming regimen is devoted to evidence-based practices — ones shown to have measurable results when compared with a control group. Some of these go by names like “Think 4 Change” and “Earn & Learn.” The schedule also includes activities that are considered “non-evidence-based,” but generally believed to be beneficial, like meditation and yoga.

“It’s like college,” Tausek said. Then he added, “It’s worse than college,” by which he meant it’s more work.

Tausek previously ran the re-entry facility in Suffolk, Mass., and is a firm believer in the need for a transition between prison and civilian life. The decision by the Board of Corrections to open a re-entry facility with the potential for others in the state was an encouraging one, he said.

“If your whole daily routine [in jail] is based on survival, then in order to survive you have to learn certain skills, and it’s not this,” he said, pointing to a schedule of programs mounted behind Plexiglas on the wall of the re-entry facility’s central hallway.

Tausek said the potential of the facility would become clear as more residents arrived. The programming is designed in phases through which a resident passes before he is released. A resident who is further along in the program might be doing more outside community service than a newcomer. Tausek said this dynamic becomes more evident when there are enough residents to see the different phases side by side.

“That’s when it gets really cool,” he said, clearly excited by the prospect of a full house functioning as a well-oiled machine, albeit a kinder one than we might otherwise associate with the correctional system. “That’s when you can really see it working.”