A longtime prosecutor will become Maine’s next top official overseeing juvenile correctional services, including the state’s embattled youth prison.
Christine Thibeault, a supervising attorney for juvenile matters with the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, has been selected as the new associate commissioner of juvenile services for the Maine Department of Corrections, Commissioner Randall Liberty said in an email to staff last week.
The position oversees services for kids involved in the criminal justice system and incarcerated at Long Creek Youth Development Center, which has been plagued by scandals for years following reports of violence, self-harm and staffing problems.
The announcement follows a shakeup in the department over a streak of violent incidents between staff and kids this summer that drew outcry from watchdog groups, spurred multiple outside investigations, and renewed calls to close the South Portland prison.
Thibeault will replace Colin O’Neill, one of two officials who resigned in September during the tumult and a social worker who previously worked at Long Creek in a leadership role supervising mental health services. His last day was Nov. 14, Liberty said.
Long Creek’s former superintendent, Caroline Raymond, also resigned, citing the need for “a reset to help restore stability to our facility,” according to her resignation letter.
Thibeault has spent the last 26 years familiarizing herself with all aspects of Maine’s juvenile justice system, Liberty said in a Nov. 10 email. In addition to prosecuting cases against kids and teens, she has served on task forces and committees aimed at better addressing their needs and worked with staff at Long Creek, he said.
“She is a champion of finding the correct balance between public safety and treatment,” Liberty said, saying she was chosen after an “extensive search.”
Thibeault couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sarhbeck said she was out of the office this week.
Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, who co-chairs the Legislature’s criminal justice and public safety committee said Thibeault’s appointment was a “very loud statement” to advocates who have pushed to close Long Creek and replace it with alternatives that do not rely on youth incarceration.
“To appoint a prosecutor who has been sending youth to Long Creek for 26 years just seems like the opposite direction that I was hoping we were going in Maine,” Warren said. “To replace a social worker with a prosecutor? It’s just very surprising to me.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of Long Creek Youth Development Center.