AUGUSTA – It may come as a surprise, It’s less expensive to put a kid through the University of Maine than it is to put someone behind bars.
This is where Maine’s most troubled youth end up, ehind locked doors and fences, in “juvy”.
Some are just detained during initial court proceedings like the Windham teen who emailed threats to school officials in 2014 shutting down the entire district for days.
Others, like Patrick Armstrong stay for years. He was 14 when he killed his neighbor of the same age with a baseball bat.
Armstrong was committed to a juvenile detention facility until he turned 18.
According to the Maine department of corrections, the average cost of keeping each juvenile locked up is 548 dollars per day. That’s more than four times the cost of adult inmates in prison.
53;06 kids require a lot of attention
Colin O’Neill heads the DOC’s juvenile division. He says there are three reasons juvy is more expensive. The first is education, they have to provide a fully accredited school.
Second is treatment.
“We have to provide the kids that come in here with skills, so we really focus on attitudes and beliefs that contribute to criminal behavior.” said O’Neill.
The third big expense, he says, is staffing. There’s one staff member for every seven kids, compared to one for every 65 adult inmates.
They won’t say that a particular program helped them, they always mention a person’s name and it’s not always a clinician. It’s a line staff, its a cook, its a maintenance worker and it’s about relationships made with the staff
The goal is rehabilitation and how effective does the program seem to be? Do you know what the recidivism rates are?
Yeah, the recidivism rates for juveniles coming out, a year out of long creek are about 38 percent
O’Neill says they’re keeping more and more kids out of Long Creek and in the community through probation or diversion programs.
“If you look at the last five years, we have reduced the number of kids committed by over 50 percent.” added O’Neill. He says that’s how they’re saving money, even if it doesn’t make a big dent in their bottom line.
O’Neill then stated, “We keep this building open, we provide the education and the treatment and programming and the staffing so the better we do our job by keeping kids out of here, the price per day goes up because there are just less kids here.”
Patrick Armstrong is now 24 and finishing his sentence at the Windham Correctional Center.
In a letter to CBS 13, he says he benefited tremendously from his time in the juvenile system. “Their efforts helped me build the foundation for my current success. I am attending the university of Maine at Augusta on scholarship, hold a 4.0 GPA, and am all but certain to be released with a bachelor’s degree and a viable path towards community reintegration and professional success.”
That’s why O’Neill feels juvenile detention is a worthy investment. “The cost for re-incarcerating, re-convicting a juvenile after they get out of here and the cost to the community in Maine is so much greater. If we don’t prevent them from committing more crime.” O’Neill concluded.