AUGUSTA — Lawmakers are looking for ways to address reports of a spike in juvenile crimes in several communities after lawmakers last year voted to prohibit temporary detentions of young people amid a push to shutdown the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland.

Officials in Fairfield and Rockland say their communities are being terrorized by gangs of juveniles who stop traffic and threaten assaults, while also fighting and damaging property. Community members are blaming police for a lack of action, but some lawmakers say there is little officers can do except release the offenders back to the community.

Republicans responded by supporting a bill that would allow police to resume temporary detentions for misdemeanor offenses in some cases, while Democrats argued in favor of expanding services to support at-risk youth, including youth shelters and mental health services.

The House of Representatives debated the issue on Monday before rejecting L.D. 148 in a mostly party-line, 74-65 vote. The Senate rejected the bill by a two-vote margin last week.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. David LaFountain, D-Winslow, would have allowed authorities to “provide physical care” to a juvenile when there is no parent or suitable person willing to supervise that juvenile or to prevent that juvenile from committing additional crimes.

“I think this is a dangerous bill,” said Rep. Nina Milliken, D-Blue Hill. “The bill before us proposes to lock up kids because they don’t have parental supervision and because they might hypothetically commit future offenses.”


Republicans supported the bill but said they believed it to be an imperfect solution to the problem of juvenile crimes.

Rep. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, a retired police officer, said briefly detaining a juvenile and having them appear before a judge was basically “tough love.”

“There are times you have to separate them for their safety and for others. Some of them get out of control,” Cyrway said. “If we don’t have this, and we don’t get them away from the situation, then we’re failing our juveniles and we’re failing our society.”

Cyrway said there are now about 22 juveniles being held at the Long Creek Youth Development Center, the state’s only youth detention facility. Juveniles accused of serious crimes continue to be detained. The number is down from 300 young people a few years ago. He suggested converting half of the facility into a rehabilitation facility.

Fairfield Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said in testimony to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that juveniles have discovered there are no consequences to their actions. She said they have injured an LGBTQ community member who needed hospital care, surrounded vehicles while shouting threats and taking video for social media, and verbally attacked elderly and vulnerable community members with “the most horrific, vulgar threats and language imaginable.”

Democrats acknowledged the problem created by prohibiting law enforcement from detaining juveniles, with Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland, saying that some juveniles have “discovered there are no consequences for their behavior.”


In testimony to the committee, Geiger said Rockland also is experiencing issues with juvenile crime. She said it began when three teens linked up after they ran away from their foster homes. There is now a group of 11 kids with histories of trauma who are disrupting school and frightening people in the community.

But Geiger said Monday that she opposes turning to incarceration and instead advocated for additional support for at-risk youth, including funding youth shelters.

“This is a tough one for me,” Geiger said. “I would like to support this bill. We need something much more than we have now. However, this bill goes too far for me. It says that we’re going to guess which adolescents are likely to commit crimes and confine them to Long Creek and that just seems wrong to me.”

Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, said the House soon would have the opportunity to consider alternatives, including programs and resources that could address the issue in a way that is “evidenced-based and proven to be effective.”

“I hope this body at some point will step up and we will be able to work together to address the issues people have raised,” Brennan said.

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