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Maine lawmakers table bill that could have broadened reasons to arrest children

LD 148 was tabled before being brought to a vote. Opponents said it would keep kids from getting the restorative resources they need.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would have added two additional reasons to detain children was tabled Wednesday by the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

The bill, An Act to Allow Detention of Juveniles for Certain Acts, would have allowed the detention of a child if no guardian could care for them or to prevent the child from committing additional crimes if released.

Sen. LaFountain, D-Winslow, proposed the bill, which was supported by the Maine Sheriffs' Association and the Maine Prosecutors' Association.

However, many expressed opposition to the proposed bill, including Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland; LGBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders; the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine; Disability Rights Maine; Center for Public Representation; and National Alliance of Mental Illness Maine.

Lawmakers on the committee questioned whether the bill would be the best solution for taking care of children in compromising situations with family and frequent criminal activity.

Children in Maine who are sentenced to serve time incarcerated end up at Long Creek Youth Development Center. Long Creek has faced staffing shortages and resignations of top officials, as well as recently allowing employees to sleep in units meant for minors transitioning out of the prison system.

Rep. Grayson Lookner, an opponent to the bill and a representative sitting on the committee, said more work is needed to help children in the justice system, but stressed that sending them to jail is not the solution.

"My main concerns with it are it really does not address the piece about creating community services for the kids who are really needing help," Lookner, D-Portland, said. "These are children who have had a really hard time in life, and the state has not provided the services they need in terms of support, and we need to make sure we have those services in place. That's really what's going to keep folks safe."

Maine Youth Justice, an organization designed to help people who transition out of juvenile incarceration, also opposed the bill.

Their organizing director, Skye Gosselin, called the bill a bandage to a "failing system."

"This bill would incarcerate youth that are crying out for help, and the once-failed youth are now looking to be punished for not having simple, adequate care," Gosselin said in a statement. "We need to build support outside of jails and prison systems that result in increased criminality, mental health issues, and extend further trauma."

The bill has the possibility to be resurfaced before the legislative session is over but not before more work is done to refine the bill's text, Lookner said.

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