GLAD Calls for Immediate Action and Release of Youth in Response to Alarming, Unsafe Conditions at Long Creek Youth Development Center
Report concludes Maine's juvenile prison is not designed or staffed to meet the needs of youth sent there; cites among major concerns harmful and unsafe conditions, severe understaffing, lack of mental health resources, harassment and abuse of LGBTQ youth
December 14, 2017 - The Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group (JJAG) today released a long-awaited assessment on Long Creek Youth Development Center, Maine's juvenile prison. GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and other youth advocates have pushed for the independent assessment and for critical reforms in response to escalating concerns that youth are not safe at Long Creek, particularly following the November 2016 suicide of a transgender youth detained at the facility.
In response to the assessment, GLAD is calling on the State to take the following actions:
- Release and find alternative options for the 25-50% of youth currently at Long Creek who this report confirms should not be there. The Department of Health and Human Services must partner in this effort with the Department of Corrections;
- Take immediate steps to address critical safety concerns for the youth that remain at Long Creek, including with more mental health care and more staff to focus on the rehabilitative purposes of state intervention in their lives;
- Establish policy and conduct training about LGBTQ youth at Long Creek, for which the report confirms a lack of adequate support and safety;
- Increase resources allocated for smaller, community-based alternatives to incarceration for justice-involved youth. The DHHS must re-develop family and community support services as well as residential facilities to provide effective emotional and behavioral skill building that serves the youth, families and our larger communities.
"The underlying take away from this assessment confirms what we already know: prisons do not work for youth," said Mary L. Bonauto, Civil Rights Project Director at GLAD, which represents four youth currently or recently incarcerated at Long Creek. "Long Creek is not designed, built or staffed to meet the needs of the youth that are sent there. We all need to seize the opportunity we have to require a systemic look at how to provide resources, support, and development to make a real difference for justice-involved youth."
The report, in eight broad areas under best practice standards for such facilities, confirms GLAD's concerns about the unsafe and damaging environment at Long Creek, highlighting, among many other alarming issues:
- unsafe conditions for youth and staff;
- high rates of self-harm among youth;
- lack of policy guidance about LGBTQ youth and systemic harassment and abuse of LGBTQ youth;
- insufficient mental health staffing despite the fact that many youth are committed to Long Creek with trauma and mental health issues;
- absence of staff and resident policy and training re LGBTQ youth and numerous incidents of harassment and abuse of LGBTQ youth;
- excessive and inappropriate use of room confinement and restraint;
- harmful practices that increase trauma such as strip searches after family visits;
- lack of access to key outside connections such as family and legal advice;
- severe understaffing
"The State has a duty to protect and care for the youth in its custody, so that they have a chance to succeed in life on their release," added Polly Crozier, Senior Staff Attorney at GLAD who is co-counsel for GLAD's youth clients at Long Creek. As the report details, many of the youth at Long Creek are incarcerated for non-violent offenses or probation violations and need not be in a secure facility at the cost of $250,000/year. Many of these youth have serious trauma histories and mental health issues, which are more appropriately addressed in closer-to-home, small group, residential settings with individual attention.
Bonauto, also GLAD co-counsel, added, "Maine needs to take a hard and urgent look at rebuilding the medical and mental health services youth need based on research and experiences that work well elsewhere. Long Creek should no longer be used as a dumping ground for youth simply because there are no appropriate services available in State."
The report, conducted by the independent Center for Children's Law and Policy (CCLP) of Philadelphia, praises the many committed and skilled line staff and supervisors. But it also documents numerous, serious and alarming conditions at Long Creek, including severe staff shortages that result in a sole focus on security and discipline over positive youth development, and lead to unsafe conditions for both youth and staff. The report also points to inadequate availability of mental health resources and educational support, and a lack of coordination of systems within the building. Calling out the particular lack of adequate safety and support for LGBTQ youth, the report cites corroborated incidences of abuse and harassment of LGBTQ youth at the facility, and calls for policy development, training, and greater accountability in this key area.
"GLAD hears from our clients, and I witness firsthand each time I visit the facility, the enormous anxiety caused by past and feared-future abuse and harassment faced by LGBTQ youth," added Bonauto. "The Report provides a roadmap of recommendations for addressing complaints we have raised for some time, and we expect the committed leadership of Long Creek and staff and supervisors to seize this opportunity." Crozier added, "At the same time, beyond the Department of Corrections, we must address other systems – such as the educational, mental health and judicial systems – that feed Long Creek. It is simply unacceptable for a State to fall so short in meeting the basic safety needs of youth in its custody."
The following documents were released today by JJAG:
- Executive Summary Long Creek Youth Development Center - Conditions of Confinement Assessment
- Narrative Report - Long Creek Youth Development Center - Conditions of Confinement Assessment
- Checklist - Long Creek Youth Development Center - JDAI Facility Assessment Standards with Individualized Treatment Planning Standards
Through strategic litigation, public policy advocacy, and education, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders works in New England and nationally to create a just society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation.