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State Task Force Urges Maine to Phase Out Only Juvenile Facility

A bill recommends two to four "small, secure therapeutic residences" for young people instead of Long Creek, Maine's only juvenile corrections facility, photographed here. (Christopher Poulos/Facebook)
A bill recommends two to four "small, secure therapeutic residences" for young people instead of Long Creek, Maine's only juvenile corrections facility, photographed here. (Christopher Poulos/Facebook)
February 27, 2020

AUGUSTA, Maine -- A task force in Maine is recommending that the state's only juvenile-corrections facility be emptied within three years.

A group of legislators and juvenile justice experts has spent more than six months analyzing Long Creek, Maine's only juvenile facility. It also hired the Center for Children's Law and Policy, a D.C.-based nonprofit, to write a report examining the state's juvenile justice system.

This extensive report was presented at the statehouse this week, with recommendations for increasing community-based responses and limiting the number of confined youths.

Atlee Reilly is the managing attorney at Disability Rights Maine and a task force member. He was asked if he thinks Long Creek can be phased out within three years.

"Hopefully it won't take that long," says Reilly. "If a lot of these recommendations are followed, it will become even clearer than it is now that Maine does not need a facility of the type and size of Long Creek."

The facility can house more than 160 youth, but these days it usually has fifty to sixty young people there. This is also because Maine has diverted a lot of youths from Long Creek in the past decade.

The task force strongly recommends funding more community-based alternatives, including mental-health and substance-abuse treatment programs.

According to the report, more than half of the young people at Long Creek are there simply because they need care and have nowhere else to go. The report also says that 73% of those detained at Long Creek for more than thirty days were just waiting for another placement or community-based programming.

Malory Shaughnessy is the executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and a task force member. Shaughnessy says one of the biggest challenges is the low level of Medicaid reimbursement for behavioral-health treatment.

"We have empty beds in our residential treatment units because reimbursement rates have not kept up and they cannot afford to hire staff to staff those beds," says Shaughnessy.

She claims there are currently thirty-five to forty empty beds because of this workforce shortage.

Shaughnessy notes that reimbursement rates for behavioral health services from MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, haven't changed since the minimum wage was $5 to $6 an hour. Now it's $12 an hour.

So, because these facilities can't afford to hire staff, Shaughnessy says too many youths are waiting for addiction and mental-health treatment.

"Youths that are prescribed 20 hours of intensive treatment for six months get maybe 10 hours or get none at all," says Shaughnessy. "Or we have over 500 kids at various times, of youth on waiting lists for this treatment."

Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, a co-chair of the juvenile justice task force, is sponsoring a bill that would phase out Long Creek and provide $3.5 million this year for community-based therapeutic services and other youth programs.

Right now, Maine spends about $17 million a year to operate Long Creek. Brennan's bill has a public hearing next week.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME