Letter To Janet Mills
October 15, 2021
Dear Governor Janet Mills,
We are writing with extreme urgency regarding the wellbeing and safety of the youth inside Long Creek Youth Development Center. The September report detailing the dangerous conditions inside Long Creek was alarming and heartbreaking. The report, published by Disability Rights Maine and sent to the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, stated that, in six separate incidents, Long Creek staff held youth in prone restraint positions for up to 20 minutes. These same staff had previously been warned about these potentially deadly restraints in 2017 by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP), and yet that warning has gone blatantly ignored as the prison continues to jeopardize youth’s lives. Prone restraints, where a person is held to lie face down, have been demonstrated to cause extreme injury and death. The usage of these restraints by adults against children who are often handcuffed is especially heinous, no youth’s life should be put at risk by those who are charged to keep them safe. Ultimately, it is clear that as long as Long Creek remains open, Maine’s most vulnerable youth will remain at risk of serious trauma, injury, or death.
Over the past four years, formerly incarcerated youth, advocacy oversight groups, and national organizations have recommended an end to the vicious practice of deadly restraint usage, a recommendation that Long Creek staff continue to ignore. While these latest acts of violence against young people are atrocious, from the very beginning Long Creek has been a source of trauma, physical harm, and psychological harm for incarcerated youth. Long Creek has blood on its hands. In addition to the unseen psychological trauma that scars system-impacted youth, incarceration also negatively affects future opportunities and leads to intergenerational trauma.
In 2019, CCLP was brought back to complete a systems assessment of Maine’s juvenile justice system. In this report, we learned that 53% of the youth who were detained in Long Creek were there for the state “to provide care”. In addition, we learned that 90% of the youth in Long Creek have three or more mental health diagnoses. In that respect, what these young people need is access to mental health services and professionals, not incarceration and separation from their families and communities. The final recommendation of CCLP’s report was to release all youth from Long Creek, as the facility has historically harmed the physical and mental wellbeing of youth. Every report and assessment has led to the same conclusion: Long Creek as an institution is dangerous, unfit, and poses a deadly risk to Maine’s youth. Therefore, we are calling on you, Governor Mills, to protect Maine’s children by immediately halting new detentions to Long Creek, creating a plan to close the facility, investing American Rescue Plan Act funds into community-based resources for youth, and creating individual transition plans to bring the youth who are inside Long Creek back into their communities where they belong.
Young people have the right to care, education, safety, and support by their communities, and Maine’s Department for Corrections (MDOC) has failed to care for youth in its custody. The evidence is clear: Long Creek and other youth prisons like it are not rehabilitative or therapeutic facilities and have consistently failed to keep youth safe. The sordid history of youth incarceration in the state of Maine must end, and you can usher in a world where no child in Maine will be locked up and ripped from their families ever again.
We are calling for the following:
- Immediately halt new detention to Long Creek Youth Development Center.
- Work with youth and community members to release a plan to close Long Creek Youth Development Center by:
- Direct the Maine Department of Corrections to release a plan to close Long Creek Youth Development Center by the end of 2021 and repurpose the facility to serve as a community center and supportive housing, instead of a place of trauma, harm and punishment.
- This plan should include divestment of $18.6 million dollars from the Maine Department of Corrections Division of Juvenile Services budget and create a Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund.
- This plan should direct the Maine Department of Corrections to work with the Maine Department of Labor to initiate a just transition of workers into different employment.
- Create transitional plans for youth released from custody to ensure they have a place to live, meet their basic needs, receive immediate & adequate medical care, ensure immediate access to Mainecare.
- Work with directly impacted young people and their families to invest American Rescue Plan Act funds into community-based resources for youth and their families.
- According to the Interim Rule 20 from the US Treasury’s guidance on eligible uses of ARPA funds, these federal recovery funds could be used to provide mental health services where they do not exist and to expand outreach, including: “mental health treatment, substance misuse treatment, other behavioral health services, hotlines, or warmlines, crisis intervention, overdose prevention, infection disease prevention, and services or outreach to promote access to physical or behavioral health primary care and preventative medicine” (p. 19-20 Interim Final Rule)
One more day is already too long to wait as children are forced to suffer in dangerous, abusive and potentially deadly conditions at Long Creek. Disability Rights Maine’s most recent report has only illuminated what we already know; Long Creek is an inherent danger to youth and their right to future autonomy.
Governor Mills, we are calling on you to join us in the fight for justice for Maine’s youth. We are speaking as those who have experienced the horrors of Long Creek firsthand and best understand how to support these youth who are voiceless in a punitive, unfeeling system. You have the power to release a plan to close this prison that poses a direct threat to the lives of young people, forever end the nightmare of youth incarceration and choose to invest in the future of Maine’s youngest generations.
We are requesting a written response by October 29, 2021.
Maine Youth Justice
Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition
Maine Inside Out
American Civil Liberties Union of Maine
Maine Equal Justice
Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Maine People’s Housing Coalition
Maine Transgender Network
Southern Maine Workers Center
Portland Overdose Prevention Society
Maine Democratic Socialists of America