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Maine Makes Significant Policy Progress

August 26, 2021
Melanie Mata and Alyson Clements

 
 

NJJN member, the Maine Center for Juvenile Law and Policy (MCJPAL), provided input on several critical youth justice reforms considered by the state legislature this year. Highlights from the first legislative session include improvements around the handling and sealing of juvenile records, enhanced due process and judicial review for adjudicated youth, and the establishment of a minimum age for detention and commitment. Still, efforts to close the state's youth prison and expand diversion to emerging adults fell just short after being vetoed by the state’s Governor.

“Overall, Maine made significant strides to improve the state’s response to children and youth who come in contact with the justice system,” said MCJPAL’s Jill Ward. “There was progress on juvenile record confidentiality, interrupting the school to prison pipeline, and securing additional protections for adjudicated youth.” Working with law student fellows over the summer MCJPAL released a summary of juvenile justice legislation acted on during this year’s session. Read more here.

Notably, several of the proposals enacted by the legislature were based on the work of the statewide Juvenile Justice Task Force and subsequent recommendations made by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy in its 2020 Juvenile Justice System Assessment. Ward, a co-chair of the Task Force, was encouraged to see the legislature adopt recommendations to limit the inappropriate use of detention; to increase access to counsel and judicial review; and to redirect funds away from the state’s remaining youth prison and into a continuum of community-based responses and services.

In addition to reforms advanced in the legislature, MCJPAL worked with the Department of Corrections and others to implement policy and practice recommendations contained in the System Assessment. One such initiative, Regional Care Teams, involved helping to design and implement a cross-agency collaboration to help reduce the use of incarceration and better transition and sustain youth in community safely. Something of particular urgency given the increased health risks of being in a congregate care setting during a pandemic.

“Despite progress, there is more work to be done. Along with the successes, there were several missed opportunities to take some transformational steps that would have made Maine a model state for youth in trouble with the law,” said Ward. Maine came closer to closing Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, its remaining youth prison. L.D. 1668, which was vetoed by Governor Mills, would have required the state to develop a plan to close the facility, to transition its workforce to other roles, and to redirect its budget to a range of community-based alternatives. Maine Youth Justice, a campaign fighting to end youth incarceration in Maine, leads the advocacy effort to close the prison and viewed the legislature’s passage of the bill as a victory on the path to end youth incarceration in Maine.

Legislation which sought to increase access to diversion and community-based alternatives for young adults between ages 18-25 years for certain crimes also failed. “Hopefully the bill opens a dialogue around how we can better outcomes for older youth and young adults in ways that improve public safety and are a more effective use of state resources than incarceration,” said Ward.  “As we look to the next session, we are committed to continuing this conversation.”

NJJN congratulates Maine Center for Juvenile Law and Policy on all its work.  Check out their website to learn more.

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