By Seth Levy
Children do not belong in jails. Being in jail is a traumatizing experience for a child and, to be clear, Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland is a jail. According to the 2017 report by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy:
“Long Creek houses many youth with profound and complex mental health problems, youth whom the facility is neither designed for nor staffed to manage. Staff and administrators at Long Creek were the first to admit that the facility is not the right place for many of the youth in its care. Long Creek was designed as a secure facility for the small number of justice-involved youth in Maine who require that level of restriction because of their likelihood of committing violent offenses.”
Long Creek has become a place to house children who are primarily a low risk to the community and who have high mental health needs. Half of all the children in Long Creek have been, at one point in their life, hospitalized for mental health problems. Courts frequently place children in Long Creek not primarily because of the offense the child has committed but because the child has no place else to go.
How is it that jail has become where we put children who need a place to live and mental health services? We need a therapeutic approach to youth in the juvenile justice system in Maine.