Three years ago, a coalition of young people, community organizations and advocates organized to launch Maine Youth Justice. After the deaths of young people at Long Creek Juvenile Development Center in South Portland, as well as those released from the facility, it was clear that the only way forward was to fight to close Maine’s last juvenile prison and to reinvest its Operating costs in community resources for young people.
As one of the campaign’s founders, I’ve spent the past three years watching lawmakers listen to the collective trauma and lived experiences of incarcerating young people as lawmakers continue to pour millions of dollars of taxpayer money into very violent systems invest that have harmed us. I was 12 years old when I was first introduced to the juvenile court system and have spent my entire adult life campaigning for Maine Juvenile Justice’s care and resources for young people. Juveniles are at risk every day Long Creek stays open.
Long Creek never taught me anything. It claims it’s a “development center,” but the only thing it develops is post-traumatic stress disorder. What I needed instead of Long Creek was someone to help me on that first day – someone to believe on my side of the story before jumping to conclusions. Instead, I watched as youth were torn from their communities, isolated, and cared for with little or no care. Kids need to feel cared for, not like they’re just another case with numbers on top.
When young people are incarcerated, we begin to see ourselves as society treats us – as outcasts, pushing us further into lives unsupported by our community. The trauma doesn’t stop when you leave confinement. Her family and friends have all moved on. There is no backlog in training and the state provides little funding to support adjustment. Young people leave detention centers so traumatized that they have lost an understanding of human interaction, including how to deal with conflict or how to deal with people. There is no going back to what was before imprisonment and we as young people are stuck with the pain forced on us in a failed attempt at justice.
We cannot continue to waste millions of dollars supporting a prison that harms vulnerable young people. In 2020, 30 percent of Mainers affected by homelessness were 24 years or younger. Marginalized communities such as LGBTQ youth and youth living in poverty were also 120 and 162 percent more likely to be homeless, respectively. If we truly care about empowering youth, then we need to invest federal funds in community-based housing programs, not in prisons. We need investment in education, health care, and support programs for Maine youth. What we really need is a plan to close Long Creek and renovate the 40-acre property in South Portland into homes and a mental health resource center.
Gov. Janet Mills continues to stand in the way of building a future in which all of Maine’s youth can thrive. While young people and communities Gov. When we asked Mills to close this facility, she continued to ignore us. This is something of concern as she is running for a second term. We have the resources to invest in our most vulnerable communities to truly save lives, and Gov. Mills is looking the other way instead of working with us on solutions. gov. Mills needs to listen to our demands and come up with a plan to close Long Creek.
The fight to close Long Creek has been fought for decades, with countless young people, their families and their communities unnecessarily harmed by their reliance on incarceration.
Maine spends $42 million annually incarcerating and policing juveniles; 2022 is more than ever the opportune time to end this nightmare and build something new.
Skye Gosselin is a 23-year-old activist from Biddeford and the organization director for Maine Juvenile Justice. She is one of the founders of the campaign and runs a nationwide youth education program for young people affected by criminal justice. Skye believes young people are the experts on what they need and envisions a world where young people are listened to rather than isolated.