As seasonal businesses struggle with a monumental workforce shortage this summer, Gov. Paul LePage says he’s trying to do his part to help desperate employers fill positions. In a radio appearance Tuesday, LePage said he will begin commuting sentences of lower-risk, nonviolent inmates from county jails and the women’s prison in an effort to bolster Maine’s flagging labor force.

“I can tell you right now, there’s a major problem finding people to work in the seasonal jobs,” said LePage. “It’s not about the money. It’s finding the people.... That’s the whole premise for commuting sentences is to try to find people that we can get into the labor force.”

Last week, the governor announced his decision to close the Downeast Correctional Facility (DCF) and release 17 lower-risk, nonviolent prisoners on the condition that they re-enter the workforce. While the governor received an unusual dose of praise from civil liberties advocates, the Maine Senate voted 30 to 3 last week to block closure of the facility because it would result in the loss of nearly 50 jobs in an economically challenged part of the state.

On Tuesday, the governor insisted that he will close the facility despite efforts by lawmakers to override his decision. LePage said his decision to close the prison was because the cost of housing the prisoneers at DCF is higher than at other state correctional facilities.

“The answer is we need to empty some of our jails of nonviolent offenders, people addicted to drugs,” LePage continued. “We’ve got to get them to work, we’ve got to try to save them, and I think that’s the vision that we see. That’s what we’re trying to move forward on.”

Prisoners who have been convicted of domestic violence, sex offenses, drug trafficking and repeat offenders are ineligible for commutations, according to a press release from the LePage administration. In addition to maintaining employment, newly released inmates must also submit to random searches, abide by curfews, and are prohibited from possessing drugs, alcohol or firearms under the terms of their release.

The ACLU of Maine called the governor’s decision “a step in the right direction,” but urged the LePage administration to also focus on reducing prison terms for nonviolent crimes, adding vocational programs to the state’s prison and investing in treatment for substance use disorder.

ACLU legal extern Scott Dolan noted in a blog post that the governor’s plan includes only strict probationary terms, but doesn’t mention a job placement program.

“Without assuring that the newly released people have workforce training and that there are employers willing to hire people with criminal convictions, those newly released may cycle back into the prison system all over again,” wrote Dolan. “A more effective way to keep low-risk offenders in the workforce would be not locking them up in the first place.”

The LePage administration’s focus on reducing the prison population echoes a national conversation about the social and economic costs of mass incarceration that has been playing out in other states in recent years. According to an ACLU analysis of Census data, the state’s prison population increased 300 percent since 1980, while the overall state population has grown by only 18 percent. It costs about $46,000 per year to house each inmate, according to state figures.

LePage also said he has sent a letter urging Congress to increase the number of H-2B visas that allow seasonal businesses to hire foreign guest workers for the summer. He said part of the problem is also that the state doesn’t allow enough children into the workforce. The governor himself began working when he was nine years old. According to the Federal Reserve’s latest “Beige Book,” workforce shortages are becoming increasingly common, but “many firms reported offering higher wages to attract workers where shortages were most severe.”