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Damning Report Finds Serious Issues With Youth In Prison

The Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, Maine, has deep roots — 165-year-old ones. The center’s first iteration was as the Boys Training Centre in 1853, when it functioned as a rehabilitation facility for young male offenders.

In 1976 it rebranded as the Maine Youth Centre, and adult male and female offenders were both accepted into its program. It later underwent another change to the name it carries today, and now Long Creek boasts a “multi-disciplined team approach” to rehabilitation, and lists its services as care, custody, and security for its residents, holds for court evaluations/diagnostic services, education, physical education and recreation, volunteer services, social services, worship services, and medical services for its juvenile offender population.

Some, however, beg to differ.

As 2017 drew to a close, an independent audit of the Long Creek facility was conducted by the Centre for Children’s Law and Policy – and the results were not encouraging. “Staffing shortages, coupled with the severe mental health problems of youth, have led to a number of dangerous and harmful conditions and practices,” was just one of the harsh observations in the report.

 

From understaffing to high suicide rates, youth are underserved in juvenile justice system.

According to the findings, Long Creek Youth Development Centre’s ratio of staff to mentally ill teens is too low, and the staff worked a collective 5,400 hours of overtime during the first nine months of 2017. Despite highly trained staff and the best intentions, the understaffing and crushing workload created insurmountable obstacles in the proper care and security of the young inmates. Supervision was lacking, leading to the inability to create a safe environment for both the youth and the staff. Training was lacking among the staff to help them deal with the severe and complex levels of mental health issues the youth presented, and safe spaces for the inmates’ LGBTQ population were not functioning. Special education programs were not up to par. In 2017, 85 percent of the inmates had three or more mental health conditions, but psychiatric care was limited. Long Creek also has a disproportionately high suicide rate.

Who are the youth behind bars at the Long Creek facility? Out-of-control teens? Little lords of the drug world? Teenaged assassins?

Not hardly.

Most of the incarcerated youth are behind bars for the crimes of theft, disorderly conduct, and the use of offensive words, and for violating the protocols of their re-entry into society. And some of the inmates are as young as 11.

Is prison where children — 11-year-olds are still in elementary schools — really belong? Science tells us that adolescent brains are not even finished developing. An adult has the benefit of a fully formed prefrontal cortex, where impulse control, logic, and reasoning take place. Teens and pre-teens seem more impulsive and prone to bad decision making because they actually are. While their bodies are nearly fully developed, their brains are playing catch up. Those formative years are when positive reinforcement, safety, security, education, and good role models are vital.

Young adults that are locked in facilities that mimic the harsh realities of adult prisons, and where staffing and educational and mental health programs are lacking, exhibit long-range side effects from the experience. According to a study entitled Unlocking Juvenile Corrections, about one-third of incarcerated youth will be back in jail within a few short years. This is not what “rehabilitation” should look like.

The Long Creek problem is not just a problem confined to this facility in Maine. It’s a problem that affects juvenile offender facilities from coast to coast. And to save lives and help reduce the mass incarceration of adults, it’s an issue that must be addressed with wide-reaching proactive, positive and effective solutions.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to The Huffington PostNew York Daily News, and Prison Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.comPrisonEducation.com and Prisonerresource.com.

About Christopher Zoukis

Christopher Zoukis, a writer currently incarcerated at FCC Petersburg (Medium), is an impassioned and active prison education advocate, a legal commentator, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and prison law articles. While living in federal prison at various security levels, retaliations for his activism have earned him long stretches in solitary, or "the hole." While in prison, he has earned numerous academic, legal, and ministerial credentials. Christopher is very knowledgeable about prison-related legal issues, prison policy, federal regulations, and case law. He is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014) and thePrison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016).The Federal Prison Handbook is an IndieReader Discovery Awards winner. A regularly featured contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Prison Legal News, the nation's most prominent prison law publication, Christopher has enjoyed significant media exposure through appearances with the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch, Vice.com, Salon.com, In These Times, The Jeff McArthur Show, The Simi Sara Show,TheCommentary.ca, 88.9 WERS' award-winning "You Are Here" radio segment, and The Examiner. Other articles and book reviews appeared in The New York Journal of Books, the Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, Midwest Book Review, Basil and Spice, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, AND Magazine, Truth-Out.org, Rain Taxi, and the Education Behind Bars Newsletter, with content syndicated by the Associated Press, Google News, and Yahoo News. He established three websites: PrisonEducation.com, PrisonerResource.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com, and was a former editor of the Education Behind Bars Newsletter. In 2011, his fiction won two PEN American Center Prison Writing Awards for a screenplay and a short story. He taught a popular course on writing and publishing to over 100 fellow prisoners. Today Christopher is successfully working on a Bachelor's Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (Business/Law) from Adams State University. Following his 2016 graduation, he plans on attending Adams State University's MBA program. He regularly advises fellow prisoners and prison consultants about legal issues and federal regulations governing the Federal Bureau of Prisons operations. Upon release he plans to attend law school and become a federal criminal defense attorney. Christopher will not allow incarceration to waste his years or halt the progress of his life. He began his prison terms as a confused kid who made poor decisions but is today determined to create a better life. "We can't let the past define us," he says. "We have to do something today to make tomorrow what we want it to be."

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