A task force has been formed to examine possible steps to improve Maine’s juvenile justice system and its reliance on incarcerating offenders in the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland.

The task force will hold its first meeting Friday from noon to 2 p.m. at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta, the House Democratic Office said in a statement Thursday. The meeting will be open to the public.

Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, will chair the task force along with Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty and Jill Ward from the Maine Center for Juvenile Policy and Law. The group will hire national experts to assess the current juvenile justice system and come up with recommendations for improving it.

Brennan’s pending bill, L.D. 1108, will guide the work of the task force and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, whose mission is to ensure that youth are not detained for lack of appropriate alternatives, and which develops ways to reduce delinquency and youth violence.

“We are at a pivotal moment in the history of juvenile justice in Maine. Before us is the opportunity to really transform our system and in ways that will allow our young people to thrive and make our communities safer. This collaboration will help us get there,” Brennan said.

Brennan in the past has spoken in support of a community-based juvenile system rather than one that relies on detention. Community-based programs place youth in group homes that emphasize therapy over punishment. Ultimately, Brennan has said, the state should reduce its reliance on Long Creek and possibly phase it out altogether.

Brennan believes that detaining and incarcerating youth can have negative short- and long-term impacts.

Though his bill has been tabled for the current legislative session, Brennan said he got support from the administration to move forward immediately with the study. By not waiting for legislative approval, Brennan said, the task force could fast-track its work with the goal of having a plan ready for the Legislature to consider by February.

Nearly all of the$200,000 required to bring in national experts and to develop a plan will come from the federal government, Brennan said.

Brennan said the long-term goal is to phase out Long Creek and move juvenile offenders into safe, secure community homes.

“Eventually, we could repurpose Long Creek,” he said, adding that such a move could take years to complete. Brennan said the state of Missouri has become a model for creating a successful community-based housing system for juvenile offenders.

Brennan’s task force has received support from the Maine Department of Corrections and from Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat.

“There is no higher priority than our children,” Mills said in a statement . “My administration is committed to protecting and supporting them from their early years through their transition to adulthood.”

“We are ready to take the next step, working with colleagues across state agencies, to identify resources and approaches to create and sustain a community-based continuum of care that improves the lives of kids and families throughout the state,” Liberty said.

The task force will include Leigh Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court; Ned Chester, chairman of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group; Commissioner Michael Sauschuck of the Department of Public Safety; several legislators, and several district attorneys.

The group will call itself the Task Force on Alternatives to Incarceration for Maine Youth.

 

 

 

 

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