An outside consultant hired by the Maine Department of Corrections to review suicide prevention practices at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland has found several deficiencies in the wake of a trangender teen resident’s suicide last year.
But the consultant says he also found a staff that is genuinely concerned about youth suicide and committed to taking corrective action.
The 52-page report by Lindsay Hayes was completed in March and obtained by Maine Public Radio through a Freedom of Access request. A nationally recognized expert in suicide prevention in jails, prisons and juvenile facilities, Hayes was asked to assess Long Creek’s policies and practices after the suicide of 16-year-old Charles Maise Knowles.
Among his recommendations:
— That the Maine DOC and/or the Maine Criminal Justice Academy develop a curriculum specific to suicide prevention in juvenile correctional facilities
— That all direct care, security, education, medical and mental health staff should receive eight hours of initial suicide prevention training, followed by a minimum of two hours of annual training
— That the comprehensive screening process for identification of suicide risk be improved
— That all youth on suicide precautions be allowed to attend school and receive family visits and telephone calls unless those privileges have been suspended
Because of the strong relationship between room confinement and suicide, Hayes also recommends that youth on suicide precautions never be automatically locked down.
“In determining the most appropriate location to house a suicidal youth, there is a tendency for facility officials nationally to both physically isolate and restrain the individual,” Hayes wrote. “The use of isolation or room confinement not only escalates the youth’s sense of alienation while feeding despair, but further removes the individual from proper staff observation. Whenever possible, suicidal residents should be housed within the general population of a facility and/or located in close proximity to staff.”
Finally, Hayes says he found in reviewing medical charts, interviewing administrative, direct care, medical and mental health personnel, and selected youth that Knowles was assessed and managed by qualified mental health professionals throughout his confinement at Long Creek from August 18th to October 29th of 2016. In addition, Hayes says there was “absolutely no difference in the quality of mental health services” provided to committed youth in the facility and youth who are sent there while their court cases are still pending. What he did find, he said, “was a profound sense of sadness on behalf of agency officials and facility staff” who were deeply affected by Knowles’ suicide.
Since the March 24th report DOC Commissioner Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick says most, if not all, Hayes recommendations have been implemented. And Fitzpatrick says he feels very comfortable with how the facility has responded.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.