Friday, January 27, 2023

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Report: Too Many Youth Incarcerated in Maine, Across U.S.

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Monday, March 28, 2022   

Almost a quarter-million American children were incarcerated in 2019, and a new report found it is about five times more than states' annual point-in-time counts reveal.

Research from The Sentencing Project showed juveniles are overwhelmingly being detained for low-level offenses, causing disruptions to schooling and home life, making young people even more likely to be arrested again in the future.

Ali Ali, advocacy director of Maine Youth Justice, said often, youth who are incarcerated are responding to trauma or family issues, and locking them up doesn't help.

"If this system exists to produce positive impact, it's really not," Ali reported. "The data, it proves that. And you know, we also see the inequities in it. We see the biases, we see the disproportionate numbers when it comes to race, we see LGBTQ really high. So, it's just creating another system of racism, of systemic racism."

Maine Youth Justice is a youth-led campaign seeking to close down Long Creek Youth Development Center, the state's last remaining juvenile prison, and reinvest funding into Maine communities. Ali noted there were two facilities holding hundreds of kids in the state, but because of advocacy efforts in recent years, it is down to 20 or 30 kids at Long Creek.

Ali added there is no "one-size-fits-all" alternative to youth incarceration. He emphasized it is important for policymakers to listen to the young people in their communities and shape any support to meet the needs they're experiencing.

"I can't tell you one specific program that works for every single community," Ali explained. "I know the community that I grew up in, one thing that we used was theater - like, we used theater to share our stories, to explain what's happened in our lives, and we started from the juvenile facility."

Ali is also an artistic director with Maine Inside Out, a nonprofit using theater for transformational social change, in Long Creek Youth Development Center and in Maine communities.

Josh Rovner, senior advocacy associate for The Sentencing Project and the report's author, said detaining kids can have lasting negative impacts.

"For one, there's self-harm," Rovner pointed out. "Children are at a much higher risk of suicide having been detained. Not surprisingly, kids who are detained are much less likely to graduate from high school."


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