The Maine Department of Corrections plans to announce major leadership changes at Maine’s troubled youth prison in the wake of reports that guards use dangerous tactics against kids, according to lawmakers briefed on the plans.
The leadership changes include the departure of Caroline Raymond, superintendent of Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, who is resigning, said Rep. Grayson Lookner D-Portland, who proposed a bill last session to close the prison. Colin O’Neill, associate commissioner of the department of correction’s juvenile division, is also stepping away from his position, Lookner said. Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty also told lawmakers that recent violent incidents at the prison are being investigated by law enforcement authorities.
Raymond did not immediately respond to a phone call or email seeking comment. Liberty deferred questions to a spokesperson, who did not immediately respond to a phone call or email.
The news comes after an advocacy group with oversight power over the prison raised concerns with the Department of Corrections that staff were using so-called prone restraint against kids and teens even after a watchdog group in 2017 warned it about the potential deadly tactic.
The letter from Disability Rights Maine urged the department to investigate an episode on Aug. 2 where guards allegedly used prone restraint against kids six times in one hour, as well as another concerning incident involving the use of force on Aug. 30. The reports renewed calls from advocates to shutter the prison, citing its history of violence and controversy.
After the Bangor Daily News reported on the letter last week, lawmakers who serve on the Legislature’s criminal justice committee called a meeting with Liberty to learn more about what has gone on at the prison.
The commissioner told lawmakers that his department planned to release an announcement this week detailing a series of recent staffing changes that have come in the wake of a handful of violent incidents that occured at the prison last month.
“There have been multiple violent incidents since Aug. 2nd that have led toward investigations by the [attorney general’s] office, potential criminal investigations and people stepping down or being moved,” said Rep. William Pluecker, I-Warren, summarizing what the commissioner told the group of lawmakers.
Lookner and Pluecker said the criminal justice committee intends to hold public hearings about the incidents last month in the coming weeks.
Raymond was hired almost exactly four years ago to help clean up the prison following a string of troubling reports about a pattern of violence, self-harm and staffing problems within its walls. She came from a residential program that helps young people struggling with mental health and substance use issues, conditions that disproportionately affect the teens imprisoned at Long Creek.
O’Neill oversees all aspects of the juvenile corrections system in Maine. He had previously worked at Long Creek for more than a decade, including as the Deputy Superintendent in charge of medical, mental and behavioral health care and substance use treatment.
He briefly served at Long Creek’s interim superintendent in 2017 before Raymond took over, after the previous head, Jeff Merrill II, resigned while on administrative leave for an unexplained investigation.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Rep. William Pluecker’s last name.