Pubdate: Tue, 01 May 2007
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2007 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Karen Saum
Bookmark: (Women)


When I came to Maine in 1969, I volunteered to teach some enrichment 
classes at the women's prison in Skowhegan. There were seven or eight 
prisoners housed in a farmhouse outside the town.

Two years later, the women were moved to a new facility in Hallowell. 
There the windows were barred, but still the place had the look of a 
college dormitory. Within five years, however, the number of 
prisoners had exceeded the facility's limited capacity of 50, and the 
women were moved to the Maine State prison in Windham.

In the '90s, I had the privilege of working with the Volunteers for 
Hancock Jail Residents. A typical writing class for women had an 
attendance of seven or eight, the same number as the total prison 
population in Skowhegan in 1969.

While the population of Maine between 1907 and 2000 grew by 75 
percent, its prison population grew by 1,250 percent.

The women I have met in prison over the years were there for the most 
part because of crimes of poverty: bad checks written at the end of 
the month, driving an unregistered car or driving without a license, 
owing money for past fines for the same offense.

The big difference between the eight students in Hancock County jail 
in 1995 and the prisoners in the Skowhegan farmhouse in 1970 was in 
the number of drug offenses. Yet these women in the Hancock County 
jail found it extremely difficult to get into rehab programs as there 
were not enough slots to meet the need.

Perhaps a solution to jail overcrowding could be found by taking the 
money for new prison construction and investing it in more rehab 
centers. Perhaps the former U.S. government monthly food distribution 
program could be brought back. Perhaps instead of building more 
prisons, money could be restored to housing construction for low-income people.

Karen Saum

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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman