The Maine Legislature’s push to close Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland is a terrible idea. Right now, we’re seeing a “perfect storm” in juvenile crime. In July alone, Rockland Police Chief Tim Carroll reported there were 10 juvenile criminal offenses, with these crimes being committed by the same half dozen young people. District Attorney Natasha Irving has also been quoted saying children’s mental health services were “at crisis levels” before the pandemic and are even worse now. All too often, an apprehended youth offender is back on the streets the same day. You’re not doing a kid any favors just giving him a slap on the wrist and turning him back into the situation that led to this dysfunctional behavior in the first place.

Repeat youth offenders, many of whom are using or experimenting with drugs, need to be placed in a detention facility to nip a destructive drug pattern in the bud. While there, professionals can investigate underlying mental and social problems, institute counseling and possibly start addiction treatment before juvenile delinquency becomes a career adult criminality. Detention can also allow Department of Health and Human Services time to investigate family, home, and school conditions that can be targeted in creating a comprehensive treatment plan.

Long Creek can accommodate 186 residents but is currently sorely underutilized with an occupancy only in the 30s. Rather than closing Long Creek, it should be used as a valuable adjunct in addressing burgeoning youth crime in Maine.

David Reed