Task force kicks off to address juvenile justice system

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AUGSUTA, Maine (WABI) - A new task force met for the first time Friday with the goal of taking a deep look into the state's juvenile justice system.

The group includes lawmakers, a number of state agencies, the judicial branch, and advocates.

"We have a problem," said Chief Justice Leigh Saufley. "We have seen that planning has actually worked in the past. Let's focus on this problem for the continuum of care in the communities, and we will have success as we have had in the past."

"I am coming with the hope that we really can have a system that looks at all kids the same way and responds to their needs, and not sort of a, I will say, a 'beds and slots' sort of way, but in a what does this kid need and how do we get it for them collectively," said Jill Ward from the Maine Center for Juvenile Policy & Law.

The task force will assess the current juvenile justice system in Maine and to look to create ways to improve outcomes for youth in the system and find alternatives to incarceration.

"It's really important -- critically important -- that we continue to lower the number of youth that are incarcerated, and push them into the community with adequate resources so we can treat them, program them, and assist them to become productive citizens," said Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty.

While the number of kids at Long View has shrunk from about 300 a decade ago to a little over 50 now, those on the task force say there is still a tremendous need to expand the community-based continuum of care.

"There are roughly 50-55 youth that are either committed or staying at the Maine Youth Center at this point, and we hope to develop a plan to have those placements be within the community," said Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, who had the idea to start this task force.

The task force will report their findings to the legislature early next year.