Pluecker joins group of lawmakers in Long Creek Youth Development Center visit

Thu, 10/21/2021 - 8:15pm

    SOUTH PORTLAND — In response to incidents of violence at the Long Creek Youth Development center, a group of legislators from the Criminal Justice and Public Safety (CJPS) Committee toured the facility Wednesday, Oct. 20.

    During the tour, legislators learned new details about the most recent incident which occurred Sunday, October 17, according to a news release. 

    “Long Creek has been the subject of a legislative inquiry, including a public hearing last month, since a spate of incidents at the facility that have required restraint of the youths to regain order,” the release noted. “Over the course of six hours on Sunday and into the early Monday morning, youths gained access to the kitchen, tool room and eventually the outdoor yard before being brought back under control by the staff.”

    The CJPS Committee, the legislative committee with jurisdiction over the facility, was not directly notified of this incident nor any of the previous ones by the Maine Department of Corrections or the Executive Branch, the release stated. Legislators learned of the incident on Sunday through the press.

    Despite expressing concerns about the running of the facility and the welfare of the youth living there during September’s public hearing, there was no direct communication or updating of the committee, according to the release.

    A previously scheduled legislative tour of the facility was conducted Wednesday morning, during which the legislators present, Sen. Susan Deschambault (D-York), Rep. Grayson Lookner (D-Portland), Rep. Victoria Morales (D-South Portland) and Rep. Bill Pluecker (I-Warren), were briefed on the details of the incident.

    “The Executive Branch needs to see the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee as a legitimate player in our joint efforts to try to address the ongoing living conditions at the facility,” said Pluecker. “When the Legislature is treated as opposition in the State House, it further stymies all of our efforts to get to the root of the problem. There have been clear efforts by the Executive to pin the issues of staff morale on legislative oversight, while at the same time trying to block us from conducting our constitutional duty. We are the elected representative of the people who are paying for this facility to rehabilitate our youths. We should not be cut out of the conversation going forward.”

    “The Legislature recognizes the incredible work of the staff in the facility to rehabilitate the youth under extremely difficult circumstances,” said Morales. “We need the Executive Branch to step forward to stop blaming the staff, the Legislature or the youth, but take responsibility for creating the environment which has led to the youth crying out for attention. The way forward must include the voices of the elected representatives as well as the staff on the ground, if we are going to find our way through the crisis which has gripped the facility over the last two months.”

    “It is clear that the approach of institutionalizing youth who make mistakes is a failed one. What we need are community support services for these young people,” said Lookner, the sponsor of a bill directing the administration to develop a plan to close the facility. “The CJPS Committee and the Legislature have voted on a way to work towards a future where we keep youth out of jail and our communities safe. It's time for the governor to get on board.”

    “With the three top officials resigning or retiring at Long Creek last month immediately following the August and September incidents, Maine has an opportunity to make significant changes in its juvenile justice system and lead the country on reform,” added Morales. “The Legislature endorses the actions recommended by the Children’s Law and Policy Center to release a third of the young people to their families with supports, approximately 10, and to conduct an individual assessment of the remaining 20 young people to determine what their needs are, where the gaps in the community are to meet those needs and then to direct resources to fill those gaps.”