BRUNSWICK — Once again, the Press Herald Editorial Board finds it necessary to demean the good work of the fine people at Long Creek Youth Development Center – people who care for kids who our community largely prefers to cast aside.

In a recent editorial (Our View, July 28), they sing the praises of “advocates” who “pushed for years for an end to juvenile incarceration in Maine.” What they ignore is that many of these advocates are administrators, staff and counselors at Long Creek. These people have “pushed for years” for alternatives to lockup. Many have designed those alternatives – and too often they are rejected. 

Finally, a transition house is on the horizon. After other communities blocked this effort through “not-in-my-backyard” campaigns, this facility will be located in a building just outside the Long Creek fence. This is happening only through the hard work of Long Creek personnel, especially one dedicated staffer, Willie Stewart, who has championed this cause for several years.

The Editorial Board couldn’t resist another swipe at Long Creek in Sunday’s editorial, proclaiming that ending youth incarceration is “progress – for the kids and their families, and for society, which should not be footing the bill for a system that does more harm than good.”

Yes – it is progress. Still, just as we had to deal with the disaster that came from closing rather than reforming our nation’s mental health facilities, this bold statement ignores the reality that no matter their age, some children, for the moment, simply cannot function in the community.

Now to directly address the insinuation that Long Creek does “more harm than good.” 

The Editorial Board launched a particularly vicious attack on Long Creek after the suicide of a transgender boy in 2016. They were quick to declare that the staff and administration of Long Creek should be held responsible.

Long Creek staff prevent a suicide nearly every week. Where is the mention of their good work? Where are the stories of these dedicated people at every level? People who show compassion and caring and take a sincere personal interest in children who have been largely rejected by the community and in many cases have absolutely no other responsible adults to turn to?

And I do mean staff at every level. Custodians to administrators. Officers, office staff, teachers and volunteers – all taking time to talk, to listen – to express simple acts of kindness that show these kids that someone cares. 

It is fine to challenge the idea that locking children up is the best way to deal with youth crime and mental health issues. You’ll get no argument from the people at Long Creek. And there are many times when the staff wonder exactly why a particular young person has been committed. 

I can tell you one reason: They have no other place to go. 

These kids can’t make the changes they need without help and support. Many of them do not have supportive homes. Many are ready for release but simply have no safe place to go. 

I understand why you might not want to welcome some of these kids into your home, into your community – right now. But until you do, there is, for many of these kids, simply no alternative.

Working to make conditions better for incarcerated youth is a noble cause. Consistently vilifying the people on the front lines who work toward this cause day in and day out is irresponsible, discouraging and destructive. 

I extend a personal invitation to the Editorial Board. Come with me on a visit to Long Creek. Before you write your next piece, come and see the good work they do. Come and listen to their ideas for reform. 

Most of all, meet the young people at Long Creek. Sure, there are kids just marking time and there are kids who for any number of reasons will simply continue down the wrong road.

But there are also some amazing young people who are grateful for the opportunities they have at Long Creek and are making the most of them. They are the reason most of us commit our time. Please tell their stories, too.


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