Amid the disagreement over Gov. Mills’ veto of a bill that would set a firm date for closing Long Creek Youth Development Center, we should take a moment to acknowledge the progress that has been made.

Whether the veto is overturned or not – and it does not appear to have the votes – the end is near for Maine’s only youth prison. It may not be coming as fast as some would like, but it is coming.

With each kid who is able to receive help while staying in their community rather than prison, the juvenile justice system gets better. Do it enough times, and the need for a youth prison eventually disappears.

That’s why the Editorial Board supports Mills’ veto of L.D. 1668, which would require the Department of Corrections to close Long Creek by June 20, 2023, and re-direct its roughly $19 million annual budget to community-based alternatives.

Instead, we support L.D. 546, which does not require the closure of Long Creek, but would achieve it just the same – without the danger that some kids would be left without the help they need.

L.D. 546 brings the Corrections Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the recent juvenile justice task force together with funding to create a system of community-based programs and services for youth as an alternative to confinement at Long Creek.


The bill also requires the DOC to find potential locations for a series of small, secure residences for the detention of a total of 20 youths, sites that are necessary for the relatively rare occasions when a detained youth is a danger to themselves or the public at large.

Advocates for L.D. 1668 say that’s not enough. They say that imprisoning a young person – any young person – is so damaging to the person and to society that Long Creek should not remain open for one day longer than it has to. They say the only way to make that happen is to give officials a hard deadline.

On nearly all the important points about youth imprisonment, we agree with those advocates. We’ve been calling for the closing of Maine’s youth prison for several years now. And if it were not for their tenacity over the years, Long Creek would not be on its last legs today.

But we feel that L.D. 1668 creates risk where none is necessary. The bill, which is thoughtful and understands what services are missing in Maine, certainly does not intend to leave kids without an option. But if the closing of Long Creek moves too quickly, it could.

What’s more, Maine needs some alternative, however small, for secure confinement. Experts tell us that this option is appropriate for only a minuscule few of the young people who go through Maine’s system – but when the rare need arises for secure confinement, it should be there.

When legislators return Wednesday, they should remember that. They should remember how services promised to the families of institutionalized Mainers have failed to materialize before.

More than that, they should remember that the number of juveniles in the state system has fallen dramatically in the last decade as untold numbers of Mainers have worked to keep kids out of the court system – just 30 or so youth are at Long Creek today. The Mills administration itself has shifted millions of dollars from the DOC to community-based programs and services already.

There is widespread recognition that prison is no place for a kid, and that the vast majority of Maine youth sent to Long Creek would be better served somewhere else. The end is coming for Long Creek. That much has already been decided.

Legislators this week aren’t voting on whether to close the state’s only youth prison. Thanks to those who have advocated for Maine kids, they’re voting on how to close it.

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