March 19, 2018
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Maine youth prison makes changes after falling short in rape prevention audit

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Long Creek Youth Development Center on Westbrook Street in South Portland.
By Jake Bleiberg, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — This past spring, Maine’s youth prison was found to have fallen short of federal standards aimed at preventing rape and sexual assault in correctional facilities.

Following a visit to the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland in late May, an independent auditor found that the facility failed to comply with three of 39 standards set out in the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

As a result of these findings, all the staff and inmates at Long Creek had to be retrained on sexual assault and rape prevention policies. The facility is now fully compliant with the law, according to an audit report issued Monday. But the Department of Corrections spent months delaying response to Bangor Daily News public records requests that would have provided Mainers with earlier, fuller information about the audit of the troubled youth prison.

The report cites a corrections official as saying that there were no complaints related to PREA at Long Creek during the past 12 months. The Department of Corrections’ most recent sexual abuse data show two confirmed incidents at Long Creek in 2016.

The news of the federal audit arrived at Long Creek not long after its superintendent had abruptly resigned amid an unexplained investigation. Officials were informed the facility had fallen partially out of compliance with federal standards around the time they were preparing to lay off nearly half the prison’s teachers and struggling to retain other staff, who were overburdened by a large mentally ill population that they do not have the training to treat.

Compounding the facility’s trouble at the time, the preliminary audit found that sexual assault training also appears to have fallen short.

The auditor found that Long Creek did not initially meet the federal standards for employee training, although it is unclear exactly why. All Long Creek staff are trained in PREA policy, but the report cites “an inconsistency in the application of some elements that support a zero-tolerance [for sexual assault] culture.”

The auditor, Jack Fitzgerald, who runs a Connecticut-based corrections consulting group, did not respond to questions about this and other issues cited in his 30-page report. In addition to employee training, his report states that Long Creek initially didn’t meet the federal standards for “resident education” and for the screening of inmates for risk of either committing or being the victims of sexual abuse.

The Department of Corrections likewise did not respond to questions for this story. And the agency spent months putting off response to public records requests that would have revealed the audit’s findings before federal law required that the report be posted publicly Monday.

In mid-June, the BDN filed Freedom of Access Act requests for the initial audit report, Long Creek’s corrective action plan and other associated documents. To date, the department has neither provided these documents nor claimed they are exempt from the law.

The department has not produced these public records, but the final audit report sheds some light on what has happened at Long Creek since it was found to meet every PREA standard in 2014.

Although the prison walls are hung with posters about how to report sexual abuse and inmates are given brochures and handbooks on the facility’s “zero-tolerance” policy, the audit states that not all the youth there understood these policies. Some young inmates were not shown a video on preventing sexual abuse “as a result of youth damaging the equipment,” the audit states.

On the staff side, there’s a robust policy around screening young people for risk when they enter Long Creek. But the people conducting these screenings were not consistently asking “all the questions needed for effective reassessment,” according to the audit.

These deficiencies were addressed through staff and inmate retraining, according to the audit. Among other measures, the Department of Corrections also agreed to rewrite its literature on sexual assault in language more easily understood by young people, post more signs about reporting sexual abuse, have the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault provide further training and education, and discuss PREA policy more regularly with youth at Long Creek.

After a September follow-up visit, Fitzgerald, the auditor, noted that Long Creek has begun to fill staff vacancies and that a new superintendent is scheduled to start there in October.

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