Maine to hire national firm again to investigate violence in youth prisons


The Maine Department of Corrections will again hire a national firm to investigate recent violent incidents at the state’s troubled youth prison, a senior official said on Friday.

This would be the third time in four years that the state has hired the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, a Washington DC-based company, to investigate and make recommendations on how to improve Maine’s conditions within the justice system. for minors.

The announcement by Colin O’Neill, associate commissioner of juvenile corrections, comes about two weeks after the Maine disability rights group sent a letter to the Department of Corrections alarming “urgent safety concerns. In the South Portland lockdown, including that staff continued to use a dangerous form of child restraint despite the Center for Children’s Law and Policy warning to stop using the practice in 2017.

It comes a day after lawmakers told the Bangor Daily News that the director of the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, along with the head of security, would resign following incidents at the prison last month, and that O’Neill would leave his post of overseeing juvenile justice for the state.

O’Neill confirmed his change of position at a meeting of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group on Friday, but did not discuss other staffing accusations or comments from lawmakers that authorities were investigating d ‘possible criminal charges against Long Creek staff.

His comments were the first public remarks from his department acknowledging the reported staff reshuffle among those overseeing the troubled youth prison, after correctional officials refused to respond to requests for comment and interviews on Thursday.

“Several weeks ago, I approached the commissioner to let him know that I would resign from my duties as associate commissioner,” O’Neill said Friday, adding that he had not been “reassigned” from his duties. despite what recent reports might have suggested.

He said the department had done a good job lately, but acknowledged that “the last two years have been pretty tough for me personally” and it is time to move on to a new role. He said he did not have a timeline for when his change would go into effect and he did not say what new duties he would take on.

In 2017, the Center for Children’s Law and Policy released an assessment of conditions in Long Creek which confirmed a series of unrest reports over a pattern of violence and staff issues at the state’s only youth detention center. .

In early 2020, the company released another report examining Maine’s wider juvenile justice system, which included recommendations on how the state could improve, including that authorities should close Long Creek in over the next few years. A bill that would have done so was passed by the Legislature this spring, but was opposed by Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat.

The letter from Disability Rights Maine urged the department to once again appeal to the Center for Children’s Law and Policy to conduct an outside investigation into what was going on inside the prison after lawyers for the organization heard complaints. children that the dangerous conditions inside had still not stopped.

The state has already started talking to the company to get “an assessment and investigation of the incidents that occurred at Long Creek to give us an objective perspective, and also to assess our response,” O’Neill said. .

A youth-led group that led the campaign to shut down Long Creek said the state should end all new detentions there. Although he welcomed the news of an external review, he questioned the value of another report on how to improve conditions in the prison of a company that has previously recommended to the State to close the establishment.

“We are not convinced that the DOC will listen to these recommendations, as they have not done so in the past four years,” said Al Cleveland, campaign manager for Maine Youth Justice. “The only solution is closure.


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