I work in mental health services in Maine. Many people I work with have high “ACE” scores – or Adverse Childhood Experiences – which are associated with negative outcomes, including moments of misguided judgment, and externalizing symptoms that can end with time in prison, without support.

In order to truly rehabilitate people, and reduce recidivism, trauma-responsive approaches are badly needed in our state prisons . On April 19, L.D. 239 will go before the Health and Human Services committee, directing HHS to “Explore the Development of a Behavioral Health Unit at the Cumberland County Jail.”

The stated need is to relieve the pressure on Riverview as the sole state forensic mental health provider, toward discerning more expeditiously who is best diverted from prison to mental health services. But it provides an opportunity to consider the evidence about rehabilitation, and truly provides an opportunity for people to rejoin the community in a healthy way.

It may mean imagining nearly all prisoners as traumatized community members in need of compassion, rather than punishment. Prison negatively affects communities, families and especially children of prisoners, who show high instances of ADHD and negative externalizing behaviors.

In a rural state like Maine, communities are vital resources. What do we want our state to look like in 20 years? I urge people to support L.D. 239, and create Maine as the national leader in progressive prison reform.

Barbara Mainguy
Orono