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Youth First Campaign Calls for Closing Long Creek Youth Center

The Long Creek Development Center is among 80 old and large prisons that a new national campaign called Youth First says needs to be closed. (Google Earth)
The Long Creek Development Center is among 80 old and large prisons that a new national campaign called Youth First says needs to be closed. (Google Earth)
March 14, 2016

PORTLAND, Maine - The time has come to close the Long Creek Youth Development Center, according to a new national campaign called Youth First.

The campaign identified 80 old and large prisons it says not only are expensive to run but poor choices for handling youth. Long Creek was built in 1853 and designed to hold 163 young offenders. Even though the facility was renovated in 2002, said Liz Ryan, president and chief executive of Youth First, she'd like to see a different approach.

"A much more effective community-based alternative that has wraparound services, things like counseling, job training, other kinds of supports that that young person might need," she said. "They're going to experience much better outcomes and much lower recidivism rates."

Ryan said there also is a significant racial disparity, because African-American youths make up only 4 percent of Maine's population but represent 18 percent of incarcerated youths. Ryan said Maine does deserve credit for closing the state's other youth prison, Mountain View, last summer.

Youth First also released a survey that showed that 77 percent of Americans favor changing the focus of the juvenile-justice system from incarceration to rehabilitation. She said Maine's decision to set up a Youth Task Force has helped guide the state's efforts.

"That task force came up with solid recommendations, and I know the state has been undertaking efforts to implement a number of those," she said. "This past year, there have been efforts to stop shackling children in the juvenile system. So, Maine appears to be the kind of state that wants to embrace the kind of reforms that this public-opinion polling is showing the public supports."

Nationwide, she said, states are spending more than $100,000 a year to hold each young offender in these outdated facilities. She said she hopes that kind of red ink will get the attention of lawmakers in Maine.

The Youth First report is online at youthfirstinitiative.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME