Task force working to improve juvenile justice system

AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Working to keep the youth of Maine on a positive track and away from incarceration is the goal of the Juvenile Justice System Assessment and Reinvestment Task Force.

"That's really our goal here is to reduce our reliance on incarceration in the state of Maine," said Randall Liberty, Commissioner of Corrections.

They're working on the root causes of incarceration.

"It's important because we find issues with those in the system directly deal with mental health, substance abuse, poverty, neglect, and learning disabilities, ' said Liberty.

One of the recommendations is diversion from the courts, that detention should not be used to treat and save youth.

Maine stakeholders, corrections staff, and judges said they have detained youth because there were no other options.

"We believe that most of those issues can be dealt with outside of incarceration. We feel that's the best way to do that," said Liberty.

Findings show more than 16% of detentions exceeded 30 days with the majority waiting for placement or community-based programming.

One recommemdation is to not detain youth who will be released in a few days, instead creating additional programs.

"I think it's incredibly important that we are working to divert as many as these youth out of that system as humanly possible and really digging down and figuring out why are they really there," said Michael Sauschuck, Commissioner of Public Safety.

They also say there needs to be more mental health programs and resources statewide. The task force strongly suggests all youth be screened for traumatic brain injuries at every entry point into either the mental health or juvenile system, and there needs to be more mobile crisis teams, programs and staff, which would require funding.

"We realize our children and youth in our state, they don't make sense in just one system or another. We've got to work together to improve the landscape and improve the lives of children and families in our state," said Dr.Todd Landry, Director of Office of Child and Family Services.

"I think this will be an ongoing task force looking at all of the work that everyone is doing, and it really takes all of the branches of government, not only the corrections, but it also takes public safety, education department, all of us working together," said Liberty.

The next and last meeting with the final report is scheduled for next month.