Maine Gov. Janet Mills has vetoed the closure of the state’s only secure youth facility, saying that shuttering the Long Creek Youth Development Center within the next two years would pose a threat to public safety.
The measure that would have closed Long Creek made it through the Legislature in June on vote margins suggesting her veto would stand up if challenged. Democratic support for the bill was stronger, but some Republicans had voted in opposition with their GOP colleagues.
Although Mills is a Democrat, lawmakers knew she might veto the measure because, as a former prosecutor and state attorney general, she is a strong backer of law enforcement.
In a veto message, Mills told lawmakers the bill was “fundamentally flawed because it forces the closure of the State’s only secure confinement option for juvenile offenders before safe and appropriate alternatives will be available.”
“If this bill were to become law,” she added, “Maine would become the only state in the nation without a secure facility to serve the needs of youth who require detention for some period because they represent a risk to themselves or others in the course of their rehabilitation. Responsible juvenile justice reform also takes into account the needs of public safety.”
Backers said they were disappointed. “Governor Mills had the opportunity to shift the punitive and violent tradition of the criminal system and chose to maintain the status quo,” said Ladi Nzeyimana, a youth organizer with Maine Youth Justice.
State officials said there are 31 youths in the facility, which is designed to serve up to 200. The bill would have shifted the nearly $19 million annual Long Creek budget to an array of community-based alternatives such as supportive housing, education, job training and mental health and substance use treatment for minors. Responsibility for caring for the locked-up youth would have been transferred from the Department of Corrections to an agency to be determined.