Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday his goal in releasing 17 non-violent state prisoners — with more to come — is to help the hard-pressed Maine tourism industry as it faces a summer season with far too few employees on hand.
“That’s the whole premise for commuting sentences. It’s to try to find people that we can put into the labor force,” the governor said during an interview with radio host Matt “Matty B” Boutwell on Z105.5’s Breakfast Club.
He said that “when we started this, we thought we could contribute a couple hundred,” but “it doesn’t look like we’re going to get there” because too many inmates have turned into hardened criminals.
LePage said during the interview slated to air Wednesday and Friday that the state is looking at a major problem “finding people to work in the seasonal jobs” that the economy relies on heavily.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about finding the people. We don’t have people that want to work in the tourist industry,” the governor said.
“I’m getting letters and calls every day for more people to go to work,” LePage said. “Finding labor right now is a real issue in the tourist industry.”
When he announced his new “comprehensive approach to modernize and improve the Maine State Prison system,” last week, LePage called the conditional commutations “part of a system-wide approach to a fiscally responsible corrections department that is committed to transitioning low-risk offenders into jobs and self-sufficiency.”
He said then that as the released prisoners “reintegrate into the community, they will help build our workforce and fill positions that have been sitting vacant.”
But LePage didn’t say that he was doing it specifically to help find workers for the tourism sector.
In unveiling the new program, LePage said the departments of Labor and Corrections “will work with offenders and employers to ensure these individuals are provided with the information, support and resources to put them on a path to succeed.”
LePage said he’s found that those who land in a Maine prison cell are generally “there to stay” because there so many opportunities for people to turn themselves around before they wind up behind bars for long.
“It’s become very difficult process and there’s very few that are going to end up being commuted.” the governor said. Generally, he said, only “really bad people” are locked up for a long time.
“We started off looking to commute 100, but we only found 17,” he said, though officials are looking for more who might qualify who are not in county jails or a women’s prison.
“We need to empty some of our jails of non-violent offenders,” LePage said, and help those who have been addicted to drugs get help and jobs.
“We have to try to save ‘em,” the governor said.
LePage said one reason the state can’t get enough workers for its restaurants and other tourism-dependent businesses is that young people aren’t picking up the slack.

“The state of Maine finds it incredulous that we would ask our children to take part-time jobs,” said the governor, who often talks about how he began working at age 9 as a poor kid in Lewiston.

He called it “a real problem” that Maine won’t give work permits to those under age 16 while other states allow children to hold some jobs, such as bussing tables, when they’re 14.

“I don’t think that’s inappropriate,” LePage said.

He said the state’s high taxes have also chased away many working class people who have left Maine to provide for their families better, taking their children with them when they go.

“We’re the oldest state and we’re getting older by the day.”

From left, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Utah Public Lands Coordinating Office Director Kathleen Clarke, Quimby Family Foundation Board Member Lucas St. Clair of Portland, Maine and Knox Marshall of Eugene, Ore., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, before a House Natural Resources subcommittee oversight hearing on Antiquities Act. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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