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Mills Vetoes Proposal To Close Long Creek Youth Jail

Troy R. Bennett

Gov. Janet Mills has vetoed a bill that would have developed a plan for closing the Long Creek Youth Development Center and redirected funding toward community-based alternatives.

In her veto message, Mills said the bill is "fundamentally flawed" because it forces the closure of the only secure option for juvenile offenders before other safe alternatives are in place.

"If this bill were to become law," Mills wrote, "Maine would become the only state in the nation without a secure facility to serve the needs of youth who require detention for some period because they represent a risk to themselves or others."

Instead, Mills pointed to the efforts of her administration's work with a 32-member juvenile justice task force to identify and develop a suite of juvenile justice reforms, including shifting funding for programs that promote restorative justice and opening two community-based residences for girls and boys as transitional living options for youth returning home from Long Creek.

Formerly incarcerated youth and their advocates have been involved in a campaign to close Long Creek for more than two years.

Their group, Maine Youth Justice, released a statement calling the governor's veto "a grave misstep that proves the administration does not care about advancing real changes to the criminal justice system which disproportionately harms people of color, low-income communities, and youth with disabilities."

The group said it remains committed to ending youth incarceration in Maine.

Abdul Ali, a member of the group, says the governor's veto shows she doesn't care about advancing real changes to the criminal justice system which disproportionately harms people of color. And Ali says her veto message doesn't make sense.

"It's actually only to create a plan to close Long Creek. And that plan will consist of the reform that's needed to reinvest back into mental health, for drug and alcohol, for housing, for placement, for all of those things," Ali says.

The bill was backed by the ACLU of Maine, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders and other groups.

It received a slim margin of victory in the Maine Senate and by a wider margin in the House but currently not enough to override the governor's veto.

Updated: June 24, 2021 at 2:22 PM EDT
This post has been updated with a comment from Abdul Ali.