Program provided training for at-risk youth

BY NOEL K. GALLAGHER

Portland Press Herald

This much is clear: After roughly a dozen years, the Jobs for Maine Graduates program at Maine’s two juvenile detention centers has ended.

What’s not so clear is how the program, which provides job training to at-risk youth, came to an end.

Representatives from both the Department of Corrections facilities and Jobs for Maine Graduates say the other party chose not to continue the contract, which ended June 29. The two facilities are Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston, north of Bangor.

“We had a strong relationship with JMG. JMG decided they didn’t want to carry on with their contract. It was their decision not to renew. They had good programs and we appreciated their service,” Mountain View Superintendent Jeff Morin said in a statement issued through a spokesman. The Department of Corrections last month signed a contract with Goodwill Industries for the same services JMG provided.

However, the head of Jobs for Maine Graduates, an Augusta-based nonprofit, said the Department of Corrections did not renew the contract because of budget issues and a change in leadership at the two facilities.

“It’s definitely those two things,” JMG Chief Executive Officer Craig Larrabee said.

Each side reiterated their version of events.

“There were some staffing issues raised with Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, after which JMG decided they and the Maine Department of Corrections were not a good fit. And JMG chose to part company,” Scott Fish said in a written statement. Fish declined to elaborate on the specifics.

The juvenile detention programs are a small part of JMG’s overall mission, which serves about 4,500 students a year from grades 6-12 in 71 programs throughout Maine, mostly at high schools.

The juvenile detention programs operate differently, Larrabee said, since the youths come and go according to their sentences, with some there for just a few weeks or months, while others are there for years; and many are not allowed to leave the facility to work.

However, Larrabee said the curriculum is similar to that of the school program and teaches the students skills they’ll need once they leave, such as how to write a resume, conduct a job search or handle a job interview.

“I think it’s a shame that they killed the program,” said Bill Linnell, who was the JMG program manager at Long Creek for three years before he left in 2012. “JMG was one of the strongest voices that advocated for the kids and is probably needed at Long Creek as much or more than at any other school in the state.”

The Department of Corrections signed a contract on June 25 that turns the Long Creek job training program over to Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, which is being paid $66,000 a year, the same amount as JMG’s most recent contract with Long Creek. The contract ends on June 30, 2014.

Fish said the department arranged the one-year contract with Goodwill, instead of putting out a request for proposals (RFP) in an open bidding process, because of time constraints. The contract will be open to all bidders next year, according to the contract.

In a section of the paperwork that asks why a sole bidding process is being used, Merrill wrote, “There is no agency that (is) providing this service as comprehensively as Goodwill throughout the state and throughout the nation.” In another section, he writes: “It would take another contractor at least 3 months to hire staff, train staff, and get them in the field to provide job development and job training.”

The document makes no mention of Jobs for Maine Graduates.

JMG, an Augusta-based nonprofit, has been operating a program at Long Creek for about 12 years and at Mountain View for about 10 years, Larrabee said.

The contracts at both facilities were for about $60,000 a year, covering 100 percent of the program’s cost, including a full-time JMG program manager. Most JMG programs are in public schools, where the cost is split between the local school district, JMG and private funding.

Larrabee said the end of the program in the detention centers wasn’t a complete surprise. For the last “six or seven years” the contract has been in jeopardy because of tight state budgets, he said.

New superintendents are now in place at both juvenile corrections facilities, and they are determining whether they need the JMG program, he said.

“It’s a natural stoppage of the partnership right now,” Larrabee said Tuesday before being told that Goodwill had taken over the job training program. “If I was in their position, I’d want to assess internal capacity before going out and hiring a third party. … If there are inner resources, then from a taxpayer’s perspective, they should be doing that.”

“Personally, I hope we do get the opportunity to work with Corrections in the future,” Larrabee said.

Linnell said Long Creek officials already were starting to phase in Corrections employees to do JMG-like work about a year before he left.

Linnell said he generally worked with about 100 young people each year through the Long Creek program, with as many as 10 of them working off-site.

JMG has an annual budget of $7 million, with $2.7 million coming from private sources, $2.6 million in state Department of Education money, and $1.7 million from local school district money. In the last legislative session, an additional $600,000 for JMG proposed by the LePage administration was not approved.