This holiday season marks another year of unconventional celebrations as we move into 2022, still grappling with the pandemic. Many families are making plans to celebrate separately, but for families with currently incarcerated youth, separation is a daily occurrence. I missed vacations, birthdays, and other life events because I was in jail when I was 15.
I know how time spent in a juvenile prison like the Long Creek Youth Development Center traumatizes young people, disconnects them from their families and communities, hinders their education, and creates often unnecessary juvenile court records. Many Long Creek children face abusive families, drugs, alcohol use, homelessness and accumulated aggression, and staff simply expect them to change them. themselves. There is no support. There is no help.
Maine’s youth and adolescents belong to their loved ones and receive the mental and social health supports they need to be healthy and happy individuals. Youth prisons are inhumane and ineffective in ensuring the safety of young people or communities. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be.
Long Creek has proven time and time again that it is not a place for young people. This month, the Center for Children’s Law and Policy discovered that Long Creek had failed to address unsafe conditions identified years ago and had led to a series of violent incidents between youth and staff. In September, several members of the Long Creek administration, including the superintendent and the head of security, were ousted for the mismanagement of at least six incidents of guards using “stomach restraints”, an incredibly practice. dangerous which had already been reported by the Center. for children’s law and policy. These latest reports are just iterations of many others released over the past several years, highlighting the immoral, cruel, and often legally gray tactics used to punish children inside Long Creek.
Young people and their families have no confidence that Maine Corrections will keep them safe. They did nothing other than create cycles of trauma and put children in our community at increased risk. Even with all of this evidence proving how Long Creek and the MDOC have continued to fail young people in our state, they continue to protect their own instead of doing the right thing: Many of the staff involved in the stress-prone debacle have just been reassigned to other positions with MDOC.
Most Mainers agree that juvenile prisons are not the solution: Fifty-nine percent support closing existing prisons and refrain from building new juvenile prisons for a more individualized approach to youth justice, focused on the situation of each child, and 83% support changing the system so that incarceration is not the default response for young people in the justice system.
Last year’s struggle to pass LD 1668 only proved support for the closure of Long Creek and the reinvestment of the full $ 18.4 million annual operating costs in community programs that support youth growth through skills training, mental health supports and community housing services. Governor Mills ‘veto on the bill is just another example of our local leaders’ tendency to pump more money into police departments and prisons instead of investing in community programs, the housing and education, to tackle the root causes.
As a new parent, I cherish every day with my family, especially the holidays, and want to make sure my kids don’t face what I went through as a young adult. You can only imagine the feeling of disconnection and abandonment that I felt during my incarceration, especially during the holiday season. Instead of continuing to overinvest in a clearly broken and harmful system, we must look to a future without incarceration for young people and with a deep investment in a continuum of community care. Closing Long Creek is the first and most crucial step in getting these kids home for the holidays – and every day in between – with the care and support they need.