Maine’s top judge asked lawmakers on Tuesday to increase support for community mental health and drug addiction resources outside the court budget.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley dedicated a large portion of her annual State of the Judiciary address to the need for more mental health and addiction treatment, safe and sober housing, data collection, case managers and facilities for youth in crisis. She told the Maine Legislature that growth must happen in those areas for the state to expand its drug courts and other intervention courts.

“The bottom line is this,” she said. “The judicial branch has a protocol in place that allows the creation of new addiction and mental health dockets as soon as the key components are in place in your communities, and you need not focus that funding on the judicial branch. We are ready when you are.”

Gov. Janet Mills signed a $1.6 million executive order this month to expand opioid addiction treatment, including in jails and prisons, and provide continuing support for people in recovery.

Maine’s Legislature is considering at least one proposal to beef up services for people with mental illness.

The bill is designed to reduce mental health crisis admissions in Maine emergency rooms by establishing four “assessment centers” where patients could receive short-term treatment before placement in the state’s mental health system. In Maine, hospital emergency rooms reported 16.6 mental health admissions per 1,000 population in 2011-14, the latest figures available and similar to the national average, according to state and national statistics.


The longest and loudest applause during Saufley’s speech came at her mention of Long Creek Youth Development Center, the state’s only juvenile detention facility. Last August, Saufley issued a scathing opinion criticizing the lack of sentencing options in Maine’s youth justice system.

“Maine trial judges will tell you that the single greatest gap in services they see in Maine’s juvenile justice courts right now is the absence of options for placement of young people who cannot go home,” Saufley said. “The need for a continuum of caring and effective placement options for these youth has never been greater. We all understand that if the only option for placement in Maine is Long Creek, which is designed for very specific circumstances, we are not doing justice for our children.”

Saufley also provided an update on the effort to digitize Maine court records. In June, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the electronic court filing system will be available to the public for a fee. The chief justice said Tuesday that they soon will see proposed legislation and rules about what records will be accessible to the public through that new system.

“This is one of the most complex projects I have ever been involved with in government,” Saufley said.

A full copy of the address is available on the judicial branch website.

Megan Gray can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

Twitter: mainemegan

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