Today, advocates for youth and communities launched a new campaign to end youth incarceration in the state and invest in a coordinated range of community based alternatives that can effectively respond to the needs of young people, support families, and lift up our communities. The Maine Youth Justice Campaign is a new project of longstanding youth justice organizations Portland Outright and Maine Inside Out, with the fiscal sponsorship of Maine Initiatives. It is a campaign created by and for communities most directly impacted by mass incarceration.
The youth prison model is inhumane, ineffective and expensive. It is also unjust, as demonstrated by significant identity-based disparities. Youth of color represent an estimated 22% of the youth at Maine’s Long Creek Youth Development Center, nearly three times their representation in Maine’s youth population at large. LGBTQ+ and gender nonconforming youth are also disproportionately system impacted in Maine, with 20-40% of Maine’s incarcerated youth population identifying as LGBTQ+, despite making up less than 10% of the US youth population generally.
The goal of Maine Youth Justice is to create safer and stronger communities by closing Long Creek and investing in a continuum of community-based alternatives to incarceration for youth where all of Maine’s young people can not only survive, but thrive. Our vision of youth justice builds on the strengths of individuals and community — because it is designed by the very communities it serves.
Recent polling shows strong support for this approach among Maine residents, regardless of political affiliation, who favor keeping young people out of prisons and instead prefer community-based alternatives to incarceration that prioritize rehabilitation over punishment. The poll also found strong support for increased spending on youth rehabilitation and investing in resources for youth in their homes and communities rather than incarceration.
The survey of 500 adults found that:
- 91 percent support treatment and rehabilitation plans that include a youth’s family in planning and services.
- 88 percent support providing financial incentives for states and municipalities to invest in alternatives to youth incarceration, such as intensive rehabilitation, education, job training, community services, and programs that provide youth the opportunity to repair harm to victims and communities.
- 85 percent support increased spending on social workers and mental health counselors.
- 83 percent support increased spending on youth rehabilitation.
Maine spends more than $250,000 per year to incarcerate a single young person at Long Creek; at an annual cost to the state of approximately $15 million. Despite national trends showing declining rates of youth incarceration, Maine’s Department of Corrections is inappropriately using the facility to house young people who could be more effectively treated through alternative services. Lack of safe housing and inadequate access to services funnels young people into the juvenile justice system, which was created to punish, not to care for them.
This campaign answers the call from young people who are organizing, surviving and lifting each other up while behind bars to not only imagine, but create, this better future. It’s time for those in positions of power to listen to those most affected by the decisions made about public policy – and the tax dollars that follow. It’s time to create the future of youth justice, by investing public dollars in a continuum of community-based alternatives to incarceration for Maine’s young people.
“Our current approach, locking up more and more Mainers in response to the harm caused by our gutted social service networks, the opioid crisis, and the conditions of poverty within our communities is deeply flawed and broken.” said Osgood, Portland Outright Executive Director. “Prisons are not the answer, and they are not working. It’s clear that when it comes to youth justice and investing in communities, Mainers are ready for change, and young people are demanding it. Young people need a seat at the table and need to take part in designing the robust continuum of care that will replace the current punitive system — one centered on connection, healing, and building youth power instead of continuing to isolate and traumatize them.”
Osgood, Executive Director
Tessy Seward, Co-Founder
Maine Inside Out