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National Juvenile Justice Group Asked To Review Long Creek For A Third Time Following Dangerous Use Of Restraints

Long Creek Youth Development Center
Susan Sharon
Maine Public
The Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland

The Maine Department of Corrections announced Friday that it will conduct a comprehensive review of the Long Creek Youth Development Center in partnership with a national juvenile justice advocacy group. The review is one of several steps the DOC says it will take after a series of violent incidents at the facility last month.

The incidents, which occurred five times between August 2 and September 13, involved residents "throwing furniture into windows, breaking furniture apart to use as weapons, assaulting other residents and staff" and flooding the residence hall which resulted in more than $100,000 in damage. Corrections Commissioner Randy Liberty says they occurred at a time when Long Creek saw a doubling of residents to 41 and a significant increase in those considered "high risk."

"Eighty percent of the residents that are at Long Creek are high risk. They're there for things such as arson, gross sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault with a weapon, those sorts of things and they have acuity levels that are more likely to be aggressive," Liberty says.

Liberty says staff are usually successful at using de-escalation techniques but if those don't work, he says restraining residents becomes necessary to take back control. In at least one instance, Liberty says a prone restraint was used to subdue a resident. The controversial and dangerous tactic involves putting youth on their stomachs in a prone position and applying pressure to their backs which can cause asphyxiation. That use of that force is now the subject of an investigation.

"They're being reviewed by the District Attorney's Office to determine appropriateness or not," Liberty says.

Meanwhile, top administrators of Long Creek have resigned and the department says it will review the facility's practices in partnership with the Center for Children's Law and Policy, a national public interest organization focused on juvenile justice reform. In an assessment of the facility four years ago, the Center had flagged prone restraints as something that should be avoided because of residents' history of trauma and mental health needs.

"Maybe a word I would use would be 'stunned,'" says Democratic Rep. Charlotte Warren of Hallowell, who is co-chair of the legislature's Criminal Justice Committee, which oversees the Department of Corrections. She says she doesn't understand why the state would pay for another report from the Center for Children's Law and Policy after one was done in 2017 and another more recently in February of 2020.

Warren and other lawmakers say the recent violence and the Long Creek staff's response to it is another reason why the facility should close. That view is shared by the ACLU of Maine and the group, Maine Youth Justice, led by formerly incarcerated young adults. A bill to close the facility was recently vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills.

Gov. Mills' spokesperson, Lindsay Crete, released a statement saying that the Mills administration is implementing juvenile justice reforms signed into law earlier this year that include identifying community-based secure residences to reduce the use of institutional confinement. But Crete says the Department of Corrections must protect public safety by accepting residents a judge has deemed cannot be placed anywhere else. Commissioner Liberty says closing the facility to high risk residents would be premature.

"Where would we place them? We can either this work, we can do it well or we can do it quickly. And if you do this work quickly you don't do it well," Liberty says.

Liberty says the Department plans to modify housing units and pursue design changes to improve Long Creek's environment and to add more behavioral health clinicians. The DOC already spends more than $18 million a year on Long Creek. Charlotte Warren says she doesn't understand why the Department would spend more on the building when the goal is to develop community placements.

Warren says her committee intends to hold a public hearing on the recent events at Long Creek and the commissioner will be invited to attend.