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Prompted by Pandemic, Youth Detention Rate Plummets in Maine

More than half of the young people detained at Long Creek, the state's only juvenile-corrections facility, are there simply because they need care and have nowhere else to go, according to a Maine Juvenile Justice Task Force report released in February. (Christopher Poulos/Facebook)
More than half of the young people detained at Long Creek, the state's only juvenile-corrections facility, are there simply because they need care and have nowhere else to go, according to a Maine Juvenile Justice Task Force report released in February. (Christopher Poulos/Facebook)
April 30, 2020

PORTLAND, Maine -- There are 43% fewer young people in detention in Maine since the first of March, in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The drop in the detention rate is much higher than most states, according to a new survey by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The survey of 30 states found youth detention is down 24% overall.

Erica King, a senior policy associate with the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, says the state was already working to find alternatives to youth detention, and a Juvenile Justice Task Force has recommended phasing out Maine's only juvenile corrections facility, Long Creek.

"What has inspired me the most is to see systems and communities coming together to solve complex, messy problems to make it happen one young person at a time," she states. "And that's what makes a place like Maine such a powerful place to be problem solving -- because it's small and it's hyper-local."

King says folks want to do the right thing by young people in Maine. The national drop in youth detention in a single month is as large as the entire decrease that took place from 2010 to 2017.

Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at The Casey Foundation, hopes the reduction in youth detention will inspire policymakers to redirect that funding elsewhere.

"It's an opportunity to provide more support to organizations that are actually working with young people in the community, supporting them and their families, keeping all of us safe -- and to disinvest from the overuse of secure detention centers, youth prisons and other residential facilities," he states.

The Maine Juvenile Justice Task Force hired a DC nonprofit to examine the state's juvenile justice system. Their report recommended more community-based alternatives, including mental-health and substance-abuse treatment programs.

King says the COVID-19 crisis is also creating a unique collaboration among young stakeholders.

"One thing I would say is a bright spot is resource development and brainstorming around what supportive housing can look like for youth involved with the justice system," she states. "And it's really been an unsolved problem in Maine, and it's a huge thing impacting reentry."

The report found more than half of the young people at Long Creek serve more time simply because they have nowhere else to go.

King says trying to better serve youths released from detention settings is a priority.

Disclosure: The Annie E Casey Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Education, Juvenile Justice, Welfare Reform.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME