By Matt Byrne
The chief justice of the state’s highest court asked Wednesday whether the state’s juvenile justice system is failing Maine’s troubled kids.
The comments came during oral arguments in an appeal by a Skowhegan teenager, referred to only as J.R., who is challenging his commitment to Long Creek Youth Development Center for up to 18 months for a string of property crimes. The teen was committed there after he racked up multiple charges in a short period, resisted following rules and participating in counseling, and failed to appear for a court date, leading to his arrest.
Assistant District Attorney Carie James argued before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that the commitment to Long Creek for that long was appropriate after J.R. refused to follow conditions of release, participate in counseling and improve his behavior.
“He had the opportunity for probation,” James said. “He failed. Attempts to rehabilitate J.R. in the community were not successful.”
But Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley interjected, and asked James to “step out to 30,000 feet.”
“This is a juvenile who is 16 during most of this period of time,” Saufley said. “He is acting inappropriately, which is not unusual for a juvenile. He is not showing up where he should be, which is not unusual for a juvenile. And the only thing the state could figure out to get this young man back on the ordinary track is incarceration. And I want to be clear, Long Creek is not a treatment facility. These kids are in lock down. It changes who they are, it changes who they think they are. Have we not failed our kids?”