A national consultant hired by the state's Juvenile Justice Advisory Group to examine Maine's juvenile justice system and incarceration of youth at the Long Creek Correctional Center in South Portland says it would be a mistake to house adults with children in the same facility.
Mark Soler is the executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Children's Law and Policy, and he briefed Maine lawmakers on the group's findings. He says it would be a mistake to house adults with children in the same facility.
The DOC has proposed transferring women from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham to Long Creek as a way to alleviate overcrowding. Soler says it would be difficult to prevent the two groups from coming into contact with each other in common areas and could be potentially harmful for juveniles.
"And the other thing is that it's the prison culture of the prison part of the facility,” he says. “There is always the problem of that rolling over to the juvenile part of the facility. I think the state is buying more problems, especially with lawyer advocates, if they do that and co-locate at Long Creek."
Instead, Soler says youth should gradually be moved out of Long Creek and then the adult women could be relocated there.
A preliminary report from a national consultant hired by the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group finds that just under half of all youth held at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland are there for non-violent crimes and could be better served in a community setting, instead of jail. Soler says those include property crimes, drug crimes and disorderly conduct, not crimes against people.
"So as we look at why young people are detained, more than half of them are detained to provide services, not because they are a threat to the community and not because they are going to abscond and not be there for their court hearings. So the need for detention is very low."
In other words, Soler says, Long Creek has become the substitute for mental health services, which many of the young people in detention need.
According to the Maine DOC, about 60 kids are housed at Long Creek. A state task force is expected to make sweeping recommendations to reform the state's juvenile justice system at a meeting next month.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that the national consultant was hired by the Maine Department of Corrections. The consultant was hired by the state's Juvenile Justice Advisory Group.