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Work release programs in correctional facilities allow inmates to hold regular jobs, working side by side with free workers, without identifying that they are inmates. Bolduc Correctional Facility and Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center both offer work release programs with a total of about 125 inmates holding jobs in the community in 2014.

Chris Veysey, an inmate at the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in Belfast, has been one of those workers. He started drinking and using opiates, mostly heroin, at a young age growing up in Harland. As a teenager and young adult he moved around a lot, both in and out of state, until October 2011 when he was sentenced to 15 years with all but five suspended and four years of probation for arson, burglary and theft of a motor vehicle.

Veysey spent much of his sentence at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, where he continued using suboxone, used to treat narcotic (opiate) addiction, for years. Finally, he said, he got sick and tired of using and quit. Seven months later he was able to transfer to the reentry center where he said has become more prepared for a better life.

"I had a lot of the wrong skills because of the way I was brought up and the people I was hanging out with," he said of his time before prison. "When you get here you get a bunch of classes in behavioral thinking. A lot of us just act and do things without thinking. It's good to be reminded of that."

Participating in the work release program has allowed him to pay back fines, work on getting his license back, and save up for an apartment for his expected release in December.

"At Windham, they only give you $50 and a bus ticket," he said. "Here I'll have money for a place instead of having to go to a shelter."

He was able to find work on his own at Wendy's in Belfast, and, through Rockland staffing agency All-4-U, got a job with a painting company, where he said he was making $10 an hour and was eligible for a raise and a bonus after 30 days.

While his employers and co-workers know he is a resident at the reentry center and do not have any issues with it, he said, it can be a problem for some people in the community and for that reason his incarceration is not publicly announced.

"Some would like to see the program shut down, but just because we've been in trouble and done bad things doesn't mean we're bad people," Veysey said. "Over the course of time, I've changed. Being here gives people a chance to succeed in life."

James Gamage, owner of staffing agency All-4-U Inc., which helps inmates find jobs with area employers, thinks the public's fear of inmates on work release is misguided. He points out that inmate workers are near the end of their sentences, and will be out working in the community shortly anyway. Their itineraries are approved by case managers and closely monitored. They are under the facility's control after work hours and cannot return to the work site to engage in any criminal activity. And no sex-offenders are permitted to participate.

Mae Worcester, community programs coordinator at Bolduc, said the men approved for work release are the lowest custody level, community custody, and they have 18 months or less left of their sentence. They have followed their case plan by attending substance abuse programs, family violence programs, or the evidence-based programs "thinking for change" and "long-distance dads." They have also done 30 days of community service before they can move on to paying work outside the facility.

Worcester said, “These men show up, they're free of substance — we test them all the time — they're eager, and they work hard.”

"The program all depends on the generosity of employers," she said. “Without them, some of these men wouldn't have enough money for rent when they get out. They face many obstacles. The general public just want people kept in prison, but there are so many people who want to help and who want these people to be successful."

Between 28 and 33 employers representing a variety of industries, including manufacturing, seafood processing, construction, auto repair and food service, hire inmates from Bolduc Correctional Facility. Worcester declined to release the list of employers because of the "sensitivity" of the company's clients.

Sea Hag Seafood in Tenants Harbor is one employer that relies heavily on the facility's work release program.

Kyle Murdock, the seafood processing company's president and CEO, agreed to an interview about the work-release program. He said when he opened the plant in 2012, unemployment was high and he did not foresee having trouble finding workers. But as the economy turned around and unemployment started to drop, so did the company's recruitment numbers. In general, it is difficult for seafood processing plants to find workers because of the nature of the industry.

"Basically we're offering double full-time work for several months of the year and then unemployment for the rest of it," he said. "It's also semi-skilled labor, so pretty much anyone can be trained within a few weeks to do the work through on-the-job training, which means that the wage that can be paid for that kind of work is lower. When skilled labor jobs are hiring, that really depletes our labor pool."

The company started offering transportation to the surrounding area at a rate of $5 per day and that increased their recruitment rates. Murdock said now half of the work force is local. In addition to inmates from Bolduc, he also hires skilled workers — primarily immigrants from Somalia and Vietnam — from a staffing agency in Portland.

Murdock said there are between 10 and 20 Bolduc inmates working at the plant at any given time, and on occasion that number has been as high as 28 of about 65 production positions. While he noted there often are issues stemming from substance abuse with anyone who has been involved in the correctional system, he said he thinks the societal benefits of employing inmates far outweigh the potential risks to employers.

"The guys show up every day and they're always pretty happy to be here," he said. "It's a program that I'm very personally invested in. I still have to go to my board every year and explain the potential risks and drawbacks and balance them out."

While there are no rules about pay rates in relation to non-incarcerated employees, Worcester said they ask for at least $8 per hour, and the average hourly wage for inmates in work-release is between $9 and $10.

Murdock said inmates working at Sea Hag Seafood get paid the same as non-incarcerated employees. The only difference is that none of the inmates are eligible for promotion while incarcerated because regulations stipulate that inmates may not be put in a position where they are supervisors over other inmates.

"We make it a point [as a matter] of policy here to treat every employee exactly the same," he said.

Regulations in Maine's criminal code say prisoners who work in industry programs or in work release programs must pay 25 percent of their gross weekly wages to victim restitution and court-ordered fines until those are paid off, and 10 percent is deducted for savings for release. For inmates participating in work release, an additional 20 percent of their earnings is taken out for room and board. Bolduc collected $231,342.86 in 2014 for room and board from inmate wages.

Some inmates are transported to their work sites by the facility, while others must pay for their rides. Those who work at Sea Hag Seafood pay $5 per day for transportation, and inmates who work for staffing agency All-4-U also pay a fee to the agency.

While some feel the policy is unfair, Worcester said the room and board deduction also covers transportation. “It is ultimately our responsibility to make sure a prisoner gets to his job," she said.

At Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center (MCRRC) in Belfast, Robyn Goff, resource coordinator, said the hourly pay rate for inmates in the work-release program there ranges from $8.75 to $15.

“It all depends on what the employers pay,” she said. “We have a myriad of employers from small mom and pop operations to Fisher Plow.”

Raymond Porter, MCRRC corrections administrator, said, “Last year we collected over $26,000 in room and board. It doesn't make a big dent [in our budget], but, more importantly, it shows our residents they have to be responsible.”

Jerome Weiner, MCRRC program manager, said since the program opened in 2010, only two inmates did not have a job through work release. Those two inmates had health issues that prevented them from working. The rest have been able to find work, and Weiner attributes this to the open-mindedness of employers in the area.

"We have an amazing job placement percentage," he said, "and it's because of the employers in Waldo County. I've never been more impressed by employers who are willing for whatever reason — sometimes because they have somebody in their family who has been incarcerated; more often than not because they're wonderful Maine neighbors — they want to reach out to neighbors in need and help them.

"So many employers in Waldo County and beyond have opened their doors to us simply because it's the right thing to do," Weiner said, "and that's worthy of great praise for them."