Prosecutors are considering criminal charges against multiple corrections officers at the state’s only youth prison after a series of violent incidents there, and three senior officials with oversight are leaving or being reassigned, according to lawmakers who were briefed on the situation.

The developments have surfaced within two weeks of reports that staff at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland were still using a dangerous form of restraint on incarcerated youths despite a warning against that practice from a national advocacy group.

Caroline Raymond, superintendent of the Long Creek Youth Development Center, has resigned after a series of violent incidents at the youth prison, lawmakers say.

Randy Liberty, commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, updated a small group of legislators about the situation at Long Creek on Wednesday, and several of the lawmakers discussed the details with the Portland Press Herald. Reached by phone Thursday, Liberty directed questions to Anna Black, spokeswoman for the department. She did not respond to a voicemail or an email Thursday.

Lawmakers said they expect to hold a hearing where members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee can question Liberty in public.

“The buck stops with him,” said Sen. Susan Deschambault, a Biddeford Democrat. “He’s got to make those decisions, and he’s got to articulate them. What’s going to be different now? That’s the No. 1 question.”

In August, 38 youths were being housed at Long Creek.

“I’m just so incredibly worried about the young people on the inside,” said Rep. Victoria Morales, D-South Portland. “They must be terrified.”

Legislators on the call Wednesday said Liberty did not provide detailed information about the recent violence, but he told them he referred those incidents to the Maine Attorney General’s Office and the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office for investigation and possible criminal charges.

Rep. Charlotte Warren, a Hallowell Democrat, said as many as nine staff members were under investigation or facing discipline for their involvement. She said those incidents also involved “armored staff,” as well as the use of pepper spray and headlock restraints.

Lawmakers also said Liberty reported a shakeup of top officials. Associate Commissioner Colin O’Neill, who oversees juvenile services, is being reassigned within the department. Caroline Raymond, the superintendent of Long Creek, has resigned. And a third person who oversees security at Long Creek has retired.

A spokesperson for the Maine Attorney General’s Office said he would not comment and referred questions back to the department. Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck also said he could not talk about ongoing investigations. Lindsey Crete, a spokeswoman for Gov. Janet Mills, said her office would respond to questions Friday.

Lawmakers on the call said they were shocked by what they heard and had questions for the administration. The news also prompted advocates to renew their calls to close the prison.

“I’m hoping that we’ll hear something from the governor,” Warren said. “This is all in her hands. She has the ability to head off in a different direction, and I’m hoping that she does that.”

Rep. Grayson Lookner, a Portland Democrat, said the recent incidents emphasize the need to close Long Creek. Lookner worked with youth advocates this year on a bill that would have started that process. It passed the Legislature, but was vetoed by Mills.

“These events just show in stark relief that it needs to happen,” Lookner said. “It must happen. We’re failing those kids every day that they’re in there.”

Rep. Bill Pluecker, an independent from Warren, said he wants to discuss whether juvenile services should be moved entirely out of the Maine Department of Corrections and to some other government agency or private entity.

“Clearly, there is a culture right now inside Long Creek which is not helping these kids get back home, get back to the lives they want to lead,” Pluecker said. “This is what we’ve been afraid of.”

Long Creek has come under additional scrutiny in recent years in the wake of a suicide at the facility and the advocacy of formerly incarcerated youth.

In 2017, the national Center for Children found the prison was chronically understaffed and not equipped to handle the serious mental health needs of young people often placed there because they did not have anywhere else to go. One of the recommendations was for administrators to explicitly prohibit restraints in the prone position and to monitor videos of restraint incidents to make sure that tactic wasn’t being used. Another was to provide more training on de-escalation with a focus on non-physical strategies.

Maine created a task force and hired the Center for Children to conduct another assessment of Maine’s juvenile justice system last year. Their work included a data analysis on youth in custody between June 2018 and May 2019. Among the key takeaways was that 53 percent of the young people detained at Long Creek that year did not pose any public safety risk. Instead, they could not go home for any number of reasons, like absent parents or their mental health needs, and alternative placements did not have room for them.

The report included a host of recommendations to reduce incarceration, like expanding restorative justice programs and crisis-bed capacity. The center also said Maine should move juvenile justice responsibilities out of the state’s Department of Corrections and under the umbrella of another agency.

The Department of Corrections created an action plan to reduce secure confinement for youth, which included moving $6 million from the $18 million budget for Long Creek to open two transitional homes for youths leaving lockup. Mills vetoed a bill that would have closed Long Creek by 2023, saying it did not do enough to address public safety needs, but her budget incorporates language from another that asks the department to find locations for smaller “secure, therapeutic residences” that could eventually replace the prison.

This month, Disability Rights Maine sent a letter to the department about recent reports from incarcerated youth on the use of prone restraints, when a person is held facedown on the ground. A spokeswoman for the corrections department did not answer specific questions last week about the current policy on restraints at Long Creek or provide any data about the use of force there. She said the department has met with Disability Rights Maine and is conducting an internal investigation of the incidents mentioned in the letter. It was not clear Thursday if that investigation is what prompted the other recent actions by the department.

Advocates have long called for the closure of Long Creek, and these developments are likely to fuel that campaign even further.

“Children do not belong in prison,” Alison Beyea, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said in a written statement Thursday. “While we appreciate that the Department of Corrections is taking these reports seriously, no amount of reform will fix an inherently violent system that harms young people. We need the governor and the Legislature to close Long Creek, and reinvest the money we use to incarcerate young people into services that support young people and let them thrive.”

Maine Youth Justice, an advocacy group for reform, also reacted strongly to the news.

“Long Creek has been a haven for abuse, neglect and isolation for far too long. Correctional officers employed to keep youth safe are actively using the prone restraint, which is documented to be deadly and dangerous,” co-founder Skye Gosselin said in a statement. “No youth is safe as long as Long Creek is left open, and Governor Mills has the responsibility to immediately close Long Creek to prevent any future harm, abuse and trauma to Maine’s youth.”

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