SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — A new report from the Center for Children's Law and Policy found staff shortages and "boredom" to be among the issues behind recent disruptive incidents at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland.
The Maine Department of Corrections requested that CCLP assess seven recent incidents of group disturbances at the center.
CCLP looked at the factors behind the incidents in August and September and how they might be related to policies at the center.
After a review that included interviews and touring the facility, CCLP found boredom to be one of the factors behind much of the acting-out behavior by youth at the center.
"With little to do during the day and no staff presence on the pods, youth are left to their own devices and engage in disruptive behavior," the report stated.
Severe and chronic staffing shortages were also noted to be "toxic" to operations at Long Creek.
Read the full report here.
The report details a number of concerns that impacted the rise in disruptive behavior.
"At last report, there were five teacher vacancies, 19 vacancies in juvenile program worker (unit staff) positions, a vacancy in the deputy superintendent position, and vacancies in three administrative positions. Staff shortages have undermined all areas of operation at the facility," CCLP stated in the report.
In addition to staffing shortages, the report also goes into detail on the shortage of mental health clinicians at the facility, as well as the lack of a psychiatric facility in Maine designed for youth.
"It's challenging to get mental health workers, clinicians, [and] professionals to work in corrections," DOC Commissioner Randall Liberty said.
"Mental health clinicians should be directly involved in conflict situations from the beginning, and clinicians need to develop effective Intensive Behavior Management Plans. At present, clinicians are not directly involved in disturbances. Intensive Behavior Treatment Plans are largely about sanctions for inappropriate behavior and do not spell out the behaviors to be extinguished, the new behaviors to be substituted, and the incentives for positive behavior development," CCLP wrote in the review.
"External conditions such as inadequate mental health services in [the] community add to the difficulties. Maine still does not have a secure psychiatric facility where youth with mental health problems can go. And psychiatric programs in the community still do not accept — or quickly eject — youth who engage in violent behavior," CCLP wrote.
In addition to concerns with staffing, boredom, and more, CCLP also detailed issues with corrections officers' behavior. It stated that the behavioral management level system is flawed.
"The behavior management system has a strong focus on rules and sanctions, with little attention to rewards for positive behavior. Youth feel that it is too difficult to reach levels three and four (where the incentives are), too easy for staff to drop them to a lower level, and it takes too long to get back to a higher level. Thus, the system is ineffective. The grievance system has built-in disincentives for residents to use it, and when they do use it, they feel that it doesn’t work," CCLP wrote in their review.
NEWS CENTER Maine spoke with Liberty after the report was made public. He attributed many of the concerns found in the report, such as boredom, staffing challenges, and more to COVID.
"It gave youth a free time, a lot of downtime, and I think some of that led into some of the issues that we saw," Liberty said.
Liberty noted many of the recommendations made by CCLP in its report are things already being implemented by the MDOC at Long Creek. The report also stated it focuses more on challenges facing the facility, as opposed to highlighting recent changes.
"They've affirmed that we're doing a lot of things right," Liberty said. "We've pivoted in a lot of areas, and I'm very encouraged for the success in our future," Liberty said.
Advocates calling for the closure of Long Creek, however, found serious concerns from the report's findings.
"I think that the system itself, the philosophy itself, is the failed philosophy, and for too long as a state we have continued to dump money into a failed philosophy," Joseph Jackson, director of leadership development with the group Maine Inside Out, said.
Jackson emphasized he's found numerous issues in how Long Creek functions. He also said his criticism isn't an attack on employees and he knows the challenging job they have. However, he's convinced additional resources are needed for the rehabilitative experience.
"Support young people. Be guardians to young people. Prepare people for life outside of state control," Jackson said.
Maine Youth Justice, an organization with the mission of ending youth incarceration in Maine, also released a statement in response to the report.
"Ultimately, Maine’s children and teenagers belong in their homes and neighborhoods, with the mental health and social support they need to be healthy and happy individuals," the organization wrote. "Being locked in a cell and away from one’s family is deeply traumatic for youth, they deserve care and understanding as developing young people with futures beyond their mistakes. Maine Youth Justice will continue to fight for a future where Long Creek is shut down and all of Maine’s children are free from the devastating impact of incarceration.”
According to Liberty, while the DOC looks to implement more changes for Long Creek, he and his staff are also working towards implementing smaller, 10-12 bed facilities to be located across Maine.
"Put youth in a smaller residential sort of environment that might be more therapeutic and more successful for their recovery," Liberty said.
Liberty added they are currently looking for possible locations.
According to Liberty, there are currently fewer than 30 residents at Long Creek Youth Development Center.
CCLP concluded its report by writing, "Hopefully this report will provide additional ideas for further reforms that will make group disturbances a thing of the past at Long Creek. The Department of Corrections can go a long way toward ensuring that by developing or agreeing to monitoring of these issues on a regular basis, with the results made available to the Legislature, the executive branch, and the public."