The state of Maine is considering some drastic changes to Long Creek Youth Development Center, the state’s only facility for incarcerated youth. This has been in response to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine’s call to shut the center.

And, really, who wants to have more kids incarcerated? Yet Long Creek represents a last-resort resource for teens who commit crimes in Maine, and the current situation there is an important window of opportunity to address their needs. Reducing or eliminating this program only removes the resource without resolving the problem.

During the past 10 years, Maine has stripped the foster care system of much of its money and shuttered the doors of many of its group homes. While it sounds great to have fewer kids in these programs, it’s because the programs have simply been de-funded – the social problems that affect the kids have not been solved. In the same manner that many mentally ill end up in jail for lack of bed space, more of our teens will eventually find their way into the adult system for lack of resources to help them.

The problems detailed in the report that spurred the ACLU’s call for closure need to be addressed, but the prescription is wrong. Care about Long Creek because it protects our community. Care about Long Creek because it serves the needs of some of Maine’s most vulnerable kids.

(Editor’s note: The author is associate chaplain at Long Creek Youth Development Center; the views expressed in this letter are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Maine Department of Corrections.)

The Rev. Daniel Mercer