The man in charge of running the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland has been placed on administrative leave, according to published reports.
Long Creek Superintendent Jeffrey Merrill could not be reached for comment. But his leave comes after a series of incidents that have raised questions about policies and safety for youth at the state-run prison.
Corrections Commissioner Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick told Maine Pubic Radio he was unable to confirm that Merrill was placed on administrative leave or to discuss the reasons for the action. But in comments to the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald, Fitzpatrick said Merrill was taken off the job this week pending an investigation. He did not elaborate.
A state police spokesman said he was not aware of any investigation. Nor was a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.
“I don’t think any one person can be named responsible. It’s systemic. It’s definitely systemic,” says Joseph Jackson, a coordinator for the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition who occasionally volunteers at Long Creek.
Jackson says he’s concerned about a list of issues inside the prison. As an example, he says he was meeting with some inmates on Wednesday when several were pulled out of his group to be questioned about a serious assault with injuries that took place the night before.
“This is supposed to be the most secure unit in the facility where this assault occurred. And so there’s a lot of things to be thinking about,” he says.
Long Creek has been in the spotlight since October when a transgender teenage boy killed himself. An investigation by the Maine Attorney General’s Office found no criminal wrongdoing, but the boy’s mother complained that he had not received adequate mental health treatment.
An independent group that oversees Long Creek’s policies recently raised concerns about mental health issues in the facility. And earlier this month three Long Creek inmates were accused by police of stealing and wrecking an SUV after they escaped during a camping trip.
It’s unclear how long Merrill will remain on leave. Fitzpatrick told the Press Herald that acting Commissioner Colin O’Neill has put in charge of the facility.