Increasing the state’s high school graduation rate will decrease the number of Maine’s children in the criminal justice system, and offering more alternatives to incarceration will give juveniles in that system a better chance of staying out of prison and succeeding as adults, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley said Thursday.
“Maine cannot afford to lose one more of its young people to prison and jails, to homelessness, to hopelessness,” Saufley said at a press conference in her office in Portland. “Maine’s response to juveniles in our communities is in urgent need of improvement.”
Saufley, along with Peter Pitegoff, dean of the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, announced the recommendations of a 70-member task force that has spent the past eight months strategizing on improving the options for at-risk youth. The results will be discussed in detail today at a forum called “Maine Rising: An Innovative Approach to Transforming Juvenile Justice” at the Augusta Civic Center.
“We are suggesting upstream solutions to downstream problems,” Pitegoff said.
The law school recently created a juvenile justice program, which includes clinical work with young people facing legal issues, the dean said.
The Juvenile Justice Task Force, which is making the recommendations and sponsoring the summit, is described as a collaboration of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, the Muskie School of Public Service, the law school in Portland and the judicial branch.
Of the task force’s nine recommendations, the chief justice Thursday singled out three as most important:
• Raising the high school graduation rate — which was 83.5 percent in 2008, according to Maine Department of Education figures — to 90 percent by 2016.
• Reducing incarceration and pre-adjudication detention rates by 20 percent in the next three years.
• Detailing a statewide system by September 2010 for in-home and out-of-home services and placements for youth in the juvenile justice system.
The task force also calls for creation of a statewide Coordinated Services District System to implement its recommendations. It most likely would be set up to coincide with the state’s eight prosecutorial districts.
“The future for disconnected youth, those who have dropped out of school, those who have lost connections with family and communities, is bleak,” Saufley said. “The Juvenile Justice Task Force envisions systemwide reform that will dramatically improve the future for Maine’s youth, prevent and remedy disconnections, and assure that they are welcomed in school and graduate to full lives.”
Maine would not be reinventing the wheel, she said. Innovative and cost-effective programs have been successful in other states and will be discussed at the forum.
Presenters lined up for today’s program include experts from Washington state, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Canada. They will conduct workshops on a variety of topics, including dropout prevention, alternatives to detention, implementing community-based solutions and a cost-benefit analysis of programs for juvenile offenders.
The topics to be outlined at today’s forum appear to be similar to those discussed at a national meeting on juvenile justice in April 2008 in Washington, D.C. Paul Lawrence, a District Court judge from Goffstown, N.H., and a member of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which sponsored that national session, will be the keynote speaker today.
The topic of his speech was not included in information about the meeting, but Lawrence has testified before a U.S. House subcommittee about the subject. In July 2007, he spoke in support of funding through the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act for programs that offer judges alternatives to detention.
“Nationwide, the youth confined in pretrial-pre-adjudicative detention include an alarmingly high census of fragile youth with serious emotional, behavioral and substance abuse issues, and youth of color,” he said, citing a 2003 Coalition for Juvenile Justice study. “The number of youth who reside in detention centers [in the U.S.] on an average day is estimated to be more than 27,000, and has grown 72 percent since the early 1990s — despite declines in juvenile offending. It is estimated that as many as 600,000 children and teens cycle through secure detention each year.”
Saufley did not offer any statistics Thursday for Maine. She said that the court system is working with the Department of Corrections, which is in charge of the Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston and the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, to obtain accurate data on the increase in pretrial and adjudicative detention as well as the number of juveniles who go on to commit crimes as adults in Maine.
“We do know that pretrial detention rates have increased over the past several years, because the number of available beds for alternatives in group homes or other settings has gotten smaller,” the chief justice said.
Saufley did not put a price tag on implementation of the recommendations, but stressed that some would be “inexpensive” and others could be implemented as the economy improves over the next two years.
“The human cost of not responding to the needs of Maine’s children today will be huge tomorrow,” she said.
The task force will remain in effect through this coming legislative session, according to Michael Brennan of the Muskie School. The goals and their implementation would be tracked for the next three years, he said.
Goals set to change juvenile justice
• Establish by 2010 a statewide goal of 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2016.
• Reduce reliance on incarceration and pre-adjudication detention by 20 percent in the next three years.
• By 2011, implement uniform statewide suspension, expulsion, zero tolerance and truancy policies.
• By 2010, ensure that all children and youth in Maine have access to quality early childhood education and proven prevention and positive youth development strategies.
• Work with the Department of Education in 2010 to formulate a plan that will create multiple pathways for education for children and youth.
• Adopt and implement a quality assurance system, an accreditation system, or set of standards that ensure quality programs and expedient, effective case management for all detention alternatives, community-based programs and court proceedings.
• By September 2010, detail a statewide system for in-home and out-of-home services and placements for youth in the juvenile justice system that ensures high-quality programming that is sufficient and accessible.
• By September 2010, develop an ongoing mechanism for providing flexible funding for youth who are served by multiple state agencies, using resources from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. This plan also will include funding options for in-home and out-of-home services and placements for youth in the juvenile justice system.
• By September 2010, in conjunction with the Children’s Cabinet and appropriate state agencies, a Statewide Coordinated Services District System will be implemented for the purpose of promoting integrated services and strategies across eight districts in Maine related to health, education, juvenile justice and economic security-employment.