Closing Maine’s embattled youth prison ‘not so simple’
The advocates calling to close Maine’s youth prison and the people who run it agree on something: Fewer kids behind bars is better.
It’s an idea that over the past decades shuttered another youth prison and saw a sharp reduction of inmates at the Long Creek Youth Development Center. More recently, as the South Portland facility has struggled with a staffing crisis and a large population of teens with deep mental illness, this idea has led criminal justice reform groups to call for it to be shut down.
The young people at Long Creek “don’t belong in a prison,” said Alison Beyea, the executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “They would be far better served in community-based programs that get them the help they need. Other states are closing their youth prisons in favor of community-based treatment, and we can, too.”
Many of those who want the facility closed, like Beyea, point to the so-called Missouri model as the one Maine should pursue, saying the state’s single traditional prison for young offenders should be replaced by a network of localized homes for troubled youths focused more on education and rehabilitation.
But while those who handle juvenile corrections in Maine agree there’s a need for more outside treatment capacity, they caution that closing Long Creek is not a simple solution.
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