Maine lawmakers voted narrowly on Monday to close the state’s only juvenile prison, but it’s not clear the governor, a former prosecutor, will let it happen.
The bill was approved in the state Senate by a 19-15 vote, a tally made closer by three Democrats who joined with Republicans in opposition. Last week, the state House of Representatives gave a thumbs-up to a similar version on a mostly party line vote of 81-57.
If Gov. Janet Mills doesn’t veto Legislative Document 1668, the state would have to close the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland within two years. Backers would need a challenging two-thirds vote in each house to override a veto.
The bill would also shift 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 be transferred to an agency to be determined.
Supporters of the closing have argued it is too expensive to keep operating and that children would be better served in community settings.
Democratic Sen. Craig Hickman of Winthrop read the names of young people who died at the facility over the years, saying that the system failed them.
“More than half are there because we can’t find a safer, more appropriate place to provide mental health treatment for them,” Hickman said.
Opponents agree changes need to be made in the way the facility is run — including community-based services — but insist the department should have more time to develop and implement the changes recommended by a state task force.
The Press Herald reported that the responsibility for caring for the youth would fall on another agency — details which would be developed by the Legislature.
The bill is on the desk of Gov. Mills, a Democrat and former state attorney general.