CHARLESTON, Maine — The Maine Department of Corrections is converting a youth prison here into a facility for adult offenders with complex medical needs.
Remaining youth at the Mountain View Youth Development Center have now been transferred to the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland.
Prison officials say the need to change Mountain View's mission is the result of successful long-term efforts to intervene in the lives of at-risk youth, which have led to a declining population of incarcerated juveniles in Maine.
But the changes at the facility will mean that some of its 142 existing employees will lose their jobs.
The Mountain View Youth Development Center has 140 beds. And until recently, it wasn't uncommon for more than a hundred of them to filled at any given time.
"Probably within the last couple of weeks, we actually got to nine committed kids," says Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick, commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections. "Kind of puttin' ourselves out of business, which is OK because that's part of the mission of the Department of Corrections. It really didn't make sense in many ways to keep an entire facility open and focused on those nine kids."
So Fitzpatrick decided to transfer the remaining nine kids from Mountain View to Long Creek, which will now house 90-100 young offenders. The nine recent arrivals will receive the same intensive services they were getting at Mountain View.
Fitzpatrick says the move allows the department to address some needs that aren't being addressed in the adult inmate population. Mountain View, he says, will undergo a change of mission.
It will become "a treatment facility," he says. "People with complex medical issues. Some of them geriatric, some of them not. But they'll have an existing medical condition that makes it difficult to treat them in a general prison population."
Fitzpatrick says Mountain View will also focus on another group of offenders ages 18 to 24, using the same kind of intense therapeutic treatments that have worked well with juveniles. And the department plans to reserve some beds for inmates who need substance abuse treatment.
Fitzpatrick says changes at Mountain View will result in layoffs of existing staff. Rod Hiltz, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, the union that represents the facility's 142 workers, says he got a phone call last week from the human resources director at the corrections department.
"Well, she [the human resources director] basically wanted to give me a heads up that it would result in a significant reduction in the workforce," he says. "She couldn't give me any numbers of people who could be laid off or who they were. So we haven't received any official notice of layoff."
Corrections officials are already working on a staffing plan for Mountain View, but say it will be couple months before everything is finalized.
For years now, people working in juvenile justice across Maine have been trying to reduce the number of children behind bars.
"Just in the past 2 1/2 years alone, and the data goes back more than that, we've had a 35 percent decrease in confinement admissions," says Erica King, a justice policy associate at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. "We had only 40 commitments last year, statewide, alone."
The credit, says King, belongs to the countless people across the state working in restorative justice, family treatment, school and other community-based programs that are reaching at-risk youth and helping them make the kind of choices that keep them out of prison in the first place.