It is unfortunate that the ACLU of Maine and this newspaper call for the closing of the Long Creek Youth Center, rather than working to improve care at the South Portland facility at the same time as supporting improved alternatives for youth with mental health needs.

In an effort to review their procedures at Long Creek, the administrators welcomed a recent audit from a national juvenile justice group. Although it outlined issues with staffing that have now partly been resolved, the report also praises the staff and the administration for their commitment to helping the kids, some of whom need to be in a secure facility. It complimented “energetic and highly motivated leaders.”

The report correctly identified the need for better mental health services for many of the Long Creek residents. The new administrator, Caroline Raymond, has made it a priority to provide alternative placements for the kids who do not need to be there. Her background in substance abuse treatment gave the investigators optimism about upcoming improvements there.

Long Creek provides high school education, as well as access to certain college classes, and extracurricular programs such as music instruction, small engine repair, and sports activities. Many of these services can best be provided in a central facility. More than 100 volunteers work with kids as mentors and tutors. The facility strikes visitors as a place volunteers and staff are working hard to help the kids.

Long Creek certainly faces serious challenges, but the improvement over time has been impressive. ACLU and others should support increased resources for Long Creek, as well as the new proposal by Maine’s Corrections chief to build regional mental health facilities.

Marian McCue of Portland is president of Friends of Long Creek.

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