AUGUSTA – A state lawmaker called this point in time a historic point to transition the state’s juvenile criminal justice system.
State lawmakers, multiple state commissioners, and other stakeholders are coming together and have formed a juvenile justice task force.
Colin O’Neill, the Associate Commissioner for the Maine Department of Corrections said the task force is trying to find out, “what do we need to do in the community so those youths don’t wind up in secure confinement.”
The newly formed task force is looking to reduce the number of incarcerated minors. Those in the Department of Corrections believe this can be done by addressing populations like the mentally ill, keeping kids in school, and working on community based programs, like smaller group home settings.
Experts said they’re trying to get away from putting low risk youth behind bars, like those with misdemeanors.
“Keep low risk youth out of the system…the outcomes for those youth is much better if you don’t sever their ties to their family, to their communities, to their school,” said Associate Commissioner O’Neill.
Rep. Michael Brennan, D – Portland, said they’re exploring, “other safe places for youth to be in the community, but they’re also places where the public will know that they’re protected and that there are safety features.”
Rep. Brennan, who submitted the legislation for the task force, said when he worked at Long Creek Youth Development Center in the 1990’s, there were 250 minors there. Now, he said there are about 30 youth committed to the South Portland facility.
“All across the country, we see that states are reducing their reliance on prisons, jails, and on incarceration and moving to community based systems,” said Rep. Brennan.
The first meeting of this task force was earlier this month, and they plan to meet monthly.
Those involved said the next step is a system wide assessment to see what is and isn’t working.
“The goal is to look at not just in of itself closing Long Creek, but what would we need in the community setting so that we don’t need Long Creek anymore,” said O’Neill.