Maine Center for Juvenile Policy and Law co-hosts Youth Justice Summit

By Bryn Gallagher ’18

Bryn Gallagher '18On November 17th, Maine Law’s newly launched Maine Center for Juvenile Policy and Law (MCJPAL) and the University of Southern Maine’s Justice Policy Program hosted a juvenile justice summit, Youth Justice in Maine: Imagining a New Future. This event convened more than 100 national and local experts, juvenile justice practitioners, and youth voices, all of whom are committed to improving youth justice in Maine.

Maine Law students were well-represented by: Bryn Gallagher, Ariel Pardee, Barrett Littlefield, Kurt Peterson (all third-year law students currently practicing as student attorneys at the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic), and Whitney Lallas, Johanna Colpritt, Anne Sedlack, and Amanda Holmes (first- and second- year law students all serving as executive board members of the Maine Juvenile Law Society).

Summit attendees were welcomed by Erica King of the Muskie School of Public Service and Gail D. Mumford of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Ms. King’s presentation included a series of statistics illustrating the progress made on the goals set at the 2009 Maine Rising Juvenile Justice Summit. She also outlined where we still have work to do to ensure that “all Maine juvenile justice involved youth experience a fair, equitable, responsive system that contributes to positive youth outcomes.” To supplement this data-centric introduction, attendees were invited to take a stroll through the Summit’s Data Walk, a compilation of posters addressing recidivism, collateral consequences, and more which can be viewed on the Summit’s website.

Notes from Long CreekNext, attendees heard a provocative and compelling keynote address by Vincent Schiraldi. Mr. Schiraldi is the founder of the Justice Policy Institute, the former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation, and a co-author of the recently published paper, The Future of Youth Justice: A Community-Based Alternative to the Youth Prison Model. He advocated for replacing the Long Creek Youth Development Center with a continuum of community-based providers, reserving a few regional residential facilities capable of providing individualized, age-appropriate treatment to youth in need of this higher level of care. View the visuals accompanying Mr. Schiraldi’s presentation.

Jill Ward, Project Manager of MCJPAL, then moderated a plenary featuring Shaena Fazal (author of the report, Beyond Bars: Keeping Young People Safe at Home and Out of Youth Prisons), Deborah Hodges (former Lucas County, Ohio, Juvenile Court Administrator), and Jason Wilson (Director of Employee and Program Development, Youth Advocate Programs). The panelists discussed their work creating community-based alternatives to youth incarceration. View the visuals that accompanied the plenary.

Maine Inside OutVoices of impacted youth were lifted up for attendees through the performance of “Love is Alternatives to Incarceration” by Maine Inside Out (MIO). After the performance, MIO members answered audience questions about their work and experiences with the juvenile justice system. They highlighted the close bond among members as a significant protective factor against recidivism and as a primary prosocial aspect of their lives. In addition to the live performance, youth voice was encapsulated through a day-long deeply moving display of artwork created by presently and formerly incarcerated youth.

During the afternoon session, attendees engaged in facilitated Table Talks where participants were asked to give their vision of juvenile justice in Maine.  Specifically, groups were asked to make programmatic, policy, and legislative recommendations aimed at developing a continuum of care that holds youth accountable in ways that cost less, promote public safety, and improve outcomes for youth.

Closing remarks were given by Colin O’Neill, Associate Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Corrections (DOC), and Tony Cipollone, President and CEO of the John T. Gorman Foundation. Associate Commissioner O’Neill talked about the progress that the DOC has made over the last decade, diverting youth from the system and decreasing youth incarceration and recidivism rates. He committed to a new goal of decreasing youth incarceration by another 30% in the near future. Mr. Cipollone ended the Summit with a call to action, asking all juvenile justice stakeholders to work together to implement a continuum of care for system-involved youth, to move away from the large youth prison model, and to make Maine the national leader in juvenile justice reform.

Attendees at the SummitYouth Justice in Maine: Imagining a New Future was a thought-provoking and well-attended program. The chief takeaway was that we, as a state, can do better to reduce reliance on overly punitive, incarceration-based responses for youth in our justice system. Holding young people accountable in community-based settings is effective in other jurisdictions and can work here in Maine.  All that is needed is the collective resolve to work together to make it happen.