Maine governor vetoes bill to shutter youth detention center

June 24, 2021 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Democratic Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill to close the state’s only youth detention center, her office announced Thursday, creating an obstacle for those who want to close the facility.

Mills, a former prosecutor and attorney general, called the proposal to close the Long Creek Youth Center in South Portland a “simplistic solution to a complex issue” while saying she remains committed to bringing “necessary change” to the juvenile justice system.

The bill “is 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,” she wrote in her veto message.

The proposal would direct the Maine Department of Corrections to make a plan to close the Long Creek Youth Development Center by 2023. The facility’s $18.6 million in annual funding would be redirected elsewhere.

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Ladi Nzeyimana, youth organizer with Maine Youth Justice, which supported the bill, criticized the governor for failing “to end the nightmare that young people in Long Creek are experiencing.”

The governor’s veto “proves the administration does not care about advancing real changes to our criminal legal system, which disproportionately harms people of color, low-income communities, and youth with disabilities,” she said in statement.

Rep. Grayson Lookner, who sponsored the bill, previously said the goals of public safety and rehabilitation can both be achieved.

“It’s moving us in the direction of having a restorative criminal justice system and not just punitive in nature,” said Lookner, D-Portland.

The Maine Department of Corrections opposed to the bill, saying it didn’t take a “balanced approach to ensuring rehabilitation and public safety.”

The bill was sent to the governor’s desk after the Senate gave final approval on a 19-15 vote — far shy of a two-thirds majority needed to overcome the governor’s veto.