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Long Creek workers used housing meant for girls during staffing crunch, documents show

Long Creek Youth Development Center said it doesn't "currently" house employees at the STEPS House, designed for use of girls.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Documents obtained by NEWSCENTER Maine show a building designated for female juveniles at Long Creek Youth Development Center was used as a rest stop for employees. Publicly available information published by the jail show no girls have stayed at the home this year.

Some employees were sleeping there between working overtime shifts at the youth prison, one former employee said.

That same employee said he was housed there indefinitely during his weeks working at the prison and saw no youth housed in the building.

The housing, known as the STEPS House, was built in 2020 and is a state funded program to bring girls out of the juvenile prison and into an integrated housing setting.

Documents obtained from the former employee's personnel file show the correctional facility was having employees sign contracts before staying at the STEPS house.

Long Creek told NEWSCENTER Maine no employees currently stay at the STEPS house, and while female juveniles haven't stayed there all year, according to public data from the jail, the prison intends to reutilize the housing for girls.

Long Creek did not reply to NEWS CENTER Maine's requests to tour the house.

Cristian Palomino, the former employee at Long Creek, was fired for attempting to extort the jail once he found out about the STEPS house intended purpose, according to the documents from Long Creek.

But records in his personnel file, include a contract he signed before staying at the STEPS house. He said he signed the contract to avoid homelessness before starting the job at Long Creek.

"I thought maybe because there's not enough residents. ... I didn't have a concept of how big the issue really was," Palomino said. "I saw girls in the jail cells. There was some in there who could have much easily been in this housing instead of being inside the cells."

The contract includes details about the STEPS house and is titled "Guidance for LCYDC STEPS house usage for after shift housing" and states the purpose of the housing is for employees.

"The property is there to allow you to perform your duties at work in a professional well rested manner. It is provided so you can get ample rest before returning to work," the contract states.

The contract Palomino signed does not state the STEPS house is intendent for residents.

According to the 2021-2022 Action Plan by the Maine Department of Corrections, the STEPS house costs $2,210,462 from its budget. It doesn't state if this is a yearly expense from the DOC budget, or a one time purchase.

"The fact that it's being used for employees means there is a mismanagement at the Department of Corrections," Portland state representative Grayson Lookner said. "We need to be making sure we're using it for its purpose ... only for the children of Maine who need support."

Lookner called it a misuse of state funds.

"I just think it's absolutely ludicrous that the Department of Corrections thinks they can house staffing in that facility," Lookner said. 

Long Creek did not respond to NEWS CENTER Maine's questions about why the housing was used for employees, for how long it allowed employees to stay there, and how frequent.

Palomino said it was used for employees who work overtime shifts.

"No one was working there. ... There would be staff members that slept there, but it would be one night at a time, and they would go to work," Palomino said. "People were being forced to work 16-hour shifts."

Long Creek told NEWS CENTER Maine in an email it has 30 open positions for juvenile program workers. A representative for the DOC did not elaborate what percentage of all JPW positions are vacant.

Currently 27 youth are detained or committed at Long Creek with 17 detained and 10 committed, according to Anna Black, spokesperson for the Maine DOC.

The STEPS program was used by the Maine DOC to integrate young girls out of the corrections system, according to publicly available documents.

"The strength-based, individualized, and gender-responsive approach will help youth make a healthy transition back to the community. STEPS will further the capacity in reducing institutional secure confinement and ultimately eliminate girl’s incarceration," the Maine DOC said report back on Jan. 26, 2021.

For women formerly incarcerated at Long Creek, the misuse of the facility is not shocking.

"Therapeutic housing. ... It's just going to be the same situation as Long Creek," Skye Gosselin, a formerly incarcerated youth and worker with Maine Youth Justice, said. "As the staffing decreases that means not a lot of opportunity to get a lot of the help they need."

Gosselin was incarcerated at Long Creek off and on again throughout her youth and said Maine Youth Justice fought against the addition of the STEPS program. Seeing the STEPS program being misused for employee use shows paints a drastic picture of the employment situation, she said.

"Being overworked and overtired. ... How can you watch another person? How can you look after someone else when you can't even take care of yourself?"

NEWS CENTER Maine submitted several questions to Long Creek related to the conditions of youth and staff and will continue to update this story as more information comes out.

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