The state appears to be moving forward with a proposal for youth detention centers in several Maine locations

The Good Will-Hinckley campus on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield. The campus is one of 15 sites identified by the state Department of Corrections as possible locations for juvenile detention centers if lawmakers decide to close or downsize the state’s only youth prison. State, the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Watchman

A building on the Good Will-Hinckley campus in Fairfield remains a top option for a juvenile detention center if state lawmakers decide to radically revamp the way youth are detained and incarcerated in Maine.

The Alfond family’s cabin would be an “ideal” residential space and is currently vacant, according to a state Department of Corrections report that was submitted earlier this year to the Legislative Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. .

The building is in good condition and being improved, but further renovations would be needed to improve security, and these works would have to be approved by the Good Will-Hinckley board, according to the report.

“There is still a lot of research and consideration to be done on this topic,” the report says. “As we continue, we will be looking to stakeholders, including yourselves, for feedback to ensure the property is close to needed services, feels like home, is cost-effective and enables racially, culturally and gender-appropriate care. We believe the process of finding secure community-based ownership is fluid and we look forward to continued research.”

The Alfond Building is one of 15 locations in the state under consideration if lawmakers decide to close or minimize operations at the struggling Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland in favor of creating a a series of smaller community detention centres. Each would hold six to 12 youngsters, but the Alfond building could hold around 20, according to the report.

These small centers would look like “therapeutic residences”, as opposed to centers of an institutional nature. Each location would need 20-30 employees and be close to education, health care and other services. The Department of Corrections had proposed 18 locations, but three proved unfeasible. For example, the former elementary school Gov. James B. Longley in Lewiston was under consideration, but it was later discovered that the school district already had plans for the site.

“It’s a model that’s being followed across the country,” said State Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, co-chair of the Legislative Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. “It’s more efficient and cheaper. We spend $18 million a year to support the Long Creek Youth Development Center.

In addition to the Fairfield location, the report named five possible sites in Bangor and five in South Portland. Three of the locations in South Portland involve land adjacent to Long Creek while the other two are former colleges.

There are also two locations in Augusta and one in Lewiston. The Augusta locations include vacant land on Arsenal Street on which a new center could be built, and the CETA building on Independence Drive which has been vacant for decades and was built as a dormitory for nurses. The Lewiston site is the former Martel Elementary School.

The latest location being considered is Biddeford District Court, which is expected to become vacant by February, according to the report.

State corrections officials, lawmakers and others have been reluctant in recent weeks to discuss the final details of the reform plan, which could speak to the politically sensitive nature of the effort to relocate young offenders. in community centers.

Under the proposal launched by Democratic lawmakers and opposed by Republicans, the smaller centers would replace Long Creek, the state’s only youth prison and the target of much criticism in recent years.

A state-commissioned report last year from the Center for Children’s Law and Policy found that Long Creek staff did not understand the use-of-force policy, incident reports contained vague and misleading language, and that staff used harsh tactics towards youth, including chemical agents such as pepper spray. The use of chemical agents on minors, in particular, is widely condemned in corrections operations and could open the state to lawsuits for civil rights violations, according to the report.

Although Long Creek operated a school, classes were infrequent due to vacant teaching positions and calls from unemployed staff, leaving students alone for long periods to complete packages of school work. An investigation found that a lack of staff, mental health support and structured activities contributed to several episodes of unruly and destructive conduct.

The closest lawmakers to closing Long Creek was last year when a bill passed both the House and Senate but was vetoed by the House of Commons. Governor Janet Mills. The bill would have required the Department of Corrections to write a plan to close Long Creek by June 30, 2023, and would have invested its $18 million budget in smaller community centers.

At the time of its veto, Mills said the bill was “a simplistic solution to a complex problem” and lawmakers were unable to secure a two-thirds majority to override the veto.

Compounding problems for heads of state, the US Department of Justice announced in June that Maine was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by overly institutionalizing children with disabilities. Justice officials found that Maine was “using Long Creek as a de facto children’s mental institution.”

Leona Lee, an assistant professor of sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, has studied juvenile justice and said the effort to close Long Creek and move to smaller community residences is part of a national trend broadly promoting a rehabilitation model for young offenders.

The prison system, Lee said, has two main models of thinking: punishment and rehabilitation. With punishment, the concept is that a person has made a choice to commit a crime and should be punished for that choice. With rehabilitation, the idea is to take into consideration the external circumstances that may have contributed to a criminal act, such as poverty or mental illness.

The criminal justice model in the United States has always focused on punishment, even for minors. But that’s started to change, Lee said, especially since medical research has shown that the part of the brain responsible for understanding consequences and controlling impulses isn’t fully developed until your mid-twenties.

One of the benefits of having youth detention centers spread across a state, rather than a single location, is that it would allow for more frequent family visits from offenders, and studies have shown that access to family can help in the rehabilitation process, she said.

A second benefit is that community centers are better settings for rehabilitation-focused programs, Lee said. And this is especially true for children who have suffered abuse or trauma early in life and who react with fear to punitive actions in prison.

But Lee warned that efforts to establish smaller detention centers may actually result in more children being sent to these centers. By creating more beds overall, it can lead to a network-broadening effect, Lee said. So one consequence of removing youth from Long Creek and centers across the state could be that more children are brought into the system, she said.

While the state report earlier this year indicated that opening a juvenile center in Good Will-Hinckley was a high-profile option, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the current state. reform efforts.

Warren, co-chair of the criminal justice and public safety committee, said she believes the Good Will-Hinckley project is moving forward and is the most advanced of any possible location.

State Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-York, the other committee chair, said the Department of Corrections is evaluating space at Good Will-Hinckley. She said the architects had recently visited the building and were reviewing the renovations needed for the space. Once done, she said the department would estimate the costs of the renovations before presenting the proposal to the governor’s office.

“Good Will-Hinckley offers the land, the environment, and the people who work there already know how to work with children,” Deschambault said.

The campus was established in the late 1800s and covers hundreds of acres in Fairfield. It is home to a charter school, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, as well as the Glenn Stratton Learning Center, museum, and other programs.

State Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, a committee member whose district includes the campus, said he thinks opening a series of juvenile centers would be too expensive.

“First of all, I’m against closing Long Creek,” Cyrway said. “On the one hand, we already own Long Creek, it’s a nice facility, there’s no reason for (residents) to be moved.”

A Good Will-Hinckley official previously said no youth detention centers would be run by his organization. The nonprofit would be renting space from the Department of Corrections.

When reached by phone, Good Will-Hinckley board chairman Ben Ward declined to answer questions and referred them to the Department of Corrections.

Anna Black, director of government affairs for the Department of Corrections, did not give details on the status of opening a juvenile center in Fairfield.

“The department continues to work to prioritize juvenile community residences as outlined in enacted legislation,” Black said in an email. “As noted in the possible locations report, we are considering a potential partnership with Good Will-Hinckley. So far the meetings with (Good Will-Hinckley) have been geared around us to better understand the options that may be available to the (Department of Corrections) for the benefit of youth involved in justice.

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