$150,000 grant to help decrease number of youths detained

Posted Sept. 21, 2011, at 6:41 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A $150,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation will allow Maine to implement changes in its juvenile justice system and decrease the need for the detention of youths charged with crimes, according to members of the Juvenile Justice Implementation Council.

The Baltimore-based foundation has designated Maine a Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative site, according to a press release issued Tuesday. The grant is the result of an agreement between the foundation and the council.

“Partnering with a national foundation will allow Maine to become a leader in achieving promising futures for all its youths,” Chris Northrop, co-chairman of the council and director of the Juvenile Justice Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, said in the release.

The initiative, according to council member Michael Brennan of the Muskie School of Public Policy at the University of Southern Maine, will provide the state with the tools for making data-driven decisions and to meet the following goals:

• Decrease the number of youths unneces­sarily or inappropriately detained.

• Reduce the number of youths who fail to appear in court or re-offend pending adjudication.

• Redirect public funds toward effec­tive juvenile justice processes and public safety strategies.

• Reduce racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in the juvenile justice system.

• Improve the overall juvenile justice system.

The first step will be to work to reduce the number of juveniles detained at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston, Brennan said Wednesday.

“About 50 percent of juveniles who are detained, are released within five days of their arrests,” he said. “This is a real opportunity to reduce the need for them to be detained at all. Studies show that detention of a juvenile for just one, two or three days has a negative impact.”

The grant money will be used to gather data to determine who is detained and for how long, what risk assessment tools are used to determine if they need to be detained for their own safety or the public’s, and what are the alternatives to detention that exist or need to be developed. The funding will not be used to implement programs, according to Brennan.

“There is a cost benefit to housing youths in alternative detention settings, such as foster care, group homes, shelters or with relatives rather than incarcerating them,” Brennan said.

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative is considered to be one of the nation’s most effective, influential and widespread juvenile justice programs. It has been implemented in more than 140 sites in 34 states and the District of Columbia over the past 19 years, according to the press release.

The 18-member council is headed by Northrop and state Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, who also serves on the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Other members include prosecutors, defense attorneys, government and education officials, and nonprofit community providers. Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley also is a member.

The council is charged with implementing recommendations that will increase the school graduation rate, reduce reliance on secure detention and incarceration, and develop a more robust system of community-based prevention and intervention services for Maine’s youths.

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