Rehabilitation – A 6-syllable Substitute for…?

Written in response to: Portland Press Harold editorial “Early release for inmates can work if well planned” 5-14-2014 by Greg Kesich

Dear Mr. Kesich,

While researching statistics and authorities, I came across your May 14, 2014, editorial. The ill-defined word “rehabilitation” is one that I must strip naked. Yes, in much the same way that “Red” did in the “Shawshank Redemption.”
Your editorial proposed bringing parole back, in part, to serve as a “…periodic review [] of the progress that an inmate has made toward rehabilitation…” There’s that problematic word again; what exactly do you mean with that six syllable substitute for something specific?

The Maine Legislature has not defined prisoner rehabilitation either, despite (9) specific statutory subsections that either use the actual word “rehabilitation,” or refer to it in the abstract. And so, the interest conflicted, voracious correctional officer’s union – that feeds on a steady diet of new and recidivist prisoners – is allowed to craft the prison policies that serve as it’s own financial alimentary canal. Not surprisingly, what comes out the other end, stinks.

Case in point: My friend Robert Steiner was released from the Maine Correctional Center earlier this year after a lengthy larceny stretch for convincing car dealerships to hand him the keys to brand new cars. By all indications, Steiner was not simply a model prisoner while he was here with me; he was a supermodel prisoner! He never got into any trouble. He was exceptionally polite, well spoken, and did everything that was asked or required of him. He was so well-behaved that he was allowed to have a flat screen TV (with over 50 channels of free cable) and a Sony PlayStation in his cell. He was so trusted by the staff and administration here that he was allowed to have a dog. We now know, however, that as soon as Steiner got out of prison, he quickly resumed his criminal vocation. In no time he was driving all over Southern Maine in the most expensive cars that his talented tongue could take. It’s what he knows. Needless to say, Robert Steiner did not learn “…a useful trade or profession…” while at the Maine Correctional Center all those years.

Title 32-A M.R.S.A. §3403 (1) (B) states: The superintendent shall provide for the safekeeping or employment of persons committed to the department in order to teach them a useful trade or profession and to improve their mental health and moral condition, which may involve work involving public restitution.

While the Robert Steiner situation might be smirk-worthy to everyone except the car dealerships he took for a ride, (and the correctional staff who work behind the big white sign that says: “Maine Correctional Center”) what if his criminal vocation had been armed robbery? Home invasion? Burglary? Drug-dealing? But of course, those versions of Robert Steiner get released from the ironically named Maine Correctional Center almost every day.

Around the time Steiner got released last spring, less than 8% of the prisoner population was being taught a “useful trade or profession” here. How can this possibly be when Maine government spending on corrections consistently hovers near the top of all 50 states, and almost double the national average? Where, specifically, does this money go?

MCC Client Master List 3/24/2014

  1. Computer Refurbishing (3 prisoners assigned)
  2. Automotive (4 prisoners assigned)
  3. Wood shop (8 prisoners assigned)
  4. Upholstery (10 prisoners assigned)
  5. Garment Factory (14 prisoners assigned)
  6. Print Shop (13 prisoners assigned)
  7. Gym Workers (7 prisoners assigned)
  8. Library (4 prisoners assigned)
  9. Grounds Workers (11 prisoners assigned) Tasks include mowing, raking, shoveling, sweeping, etc…
  10. Floor Care (7 prisoners assigned)
  11. Kitchen Workers (79 prisoners assigned) 90% of these men work less than 2 hours a day
  12. Laundry Folders (45 prisoners assigned)
  13. Utility Workers (252 prisoners assigned) Tasks include sweeping, mopping, or cleaning sometimes for as little as 5 minutes a day.
  14. Idle assignments. (213 prisoners assigned) Assigned as a result of discipline or dysfunction.

Between 2007 and 2012, I was incarcerated (by interstate compact) at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Oregon. I was pleasantly shocked when I learned that Oregon prisons employ correctional officers who are also professional electricians, welders, plumbers, HVAC technicians, cabinet-makers, home builders, etc… to proactively ensure that the six-syllable substitute actually means something specific. I personally made progress as I logged enough apprenticeship hours (8,000 to be exact) while in Oregon prison to qualify as a journeyman electrician here in Maine. In contrast, the Maine Correctional Center employs two full time (union) electricians, but these handsomely paid men do not apprentice any prisoners, and I am strictly forbidden from doing any electrical work. Moreover, none of the tradesmen who maintain this crumbling facility apprentice any prisoners through the Secretary of State. Lost opportunities abound: the prison system in Maine is nothing more than fiscal shell-game for the bullying, collective bargaining correctional officer’s union.

In closing I propose that the Department of Corrections be merged with the Department of Inland Fisheries, because “Catch and Release” is no longer just a fishing philosophy of the passive.

Yours truly,
Steven R. Schoff Jr.


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