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Juveniles break out of Maine youth prison after using fire extinguisher as weapon

The Long Creek Youth Development Center is little more than half-staffed and nearly closed down in 2023, according to the Maine DOC

Long Creek Youth Development Center

The new details offer insight into the turmoil at Long Creek Youth Development Center that has caused attorneys and staff to plead for help.

Long Creek Youth Development Center

By Hannah LaClaire
Portland Press Herald, Maine

PORTLAND, Maine — A group of nine boys armed with makeshift weapons broke out of Maine’s youth prison in late January but did not make it off the grounds, according to South Portland police.

The new details offer insight into the turmoil at Long Creek Youth Development Center that has caused attorneys and staff to plead for help. They say staff shortages have led to frequent 23-hour lockdowns, unsafe working conditions and quality of life issues for the young residents, including decreased access to their attorneys.

Around 10:40 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 28, staff at Long Creek called South Portland police to request a perimeter around the prison’s campus, according to dispatch records released Monday via a public records request.

Police said another call about 10 minutes later, also from the Long Creek number, captured a commotion in the background.

“Then a younger male started to talk to me and he says he’s at his house and a guy came in and started to shoot at his sister,” according to the report. The caller gave his address, “then he said something about Long Creek and hung up. I think there was laughing in the background,” the report said.

South Portland Police Chief Daniel Ahern said officers responded at the request of staff to secure the perimeter and that the second call was “dismissed as unrelated.” A full transcript of that call was not immediately available Monday.

At about 11 p.m., police reported that the boys broke out of an office building and were entering the fenced-in yard, carrying weapons — a broken guitar, a table clamp and a fire extinguisher.

Staff told the South Portland Fire Department that the kids had sprayed the fire extinguisher, according to a transcript of one call with emergency dispatchers. Long Creek staff told the department there was not a fire and not to send any units.

“We do not need them to show up at this time,” the unidentified employee said. “It’s probably better if they do not.”

Other details about how the boys got out, what sort of damage they caused and what happened next were sparse. Ahern said to his knowledge, nobody was hurt.

The residents did not make it past the fenced-in area and police left the scene at about 1:30 a.m. , according to records.

Ahern said it was a “pretty routine call” for the department.

That was clear from another call made from the facility to the dispatch center that night when an employee asked police to set up a perimeter.

“They should know what to do. They’ve done it before,” the employee said, according to a transcript. “Someone usually sits in the corner and then someone in the parking lot.”

A union representative declined Monday to share any additional information and said they have no comment. The Department of Corrections did not respond to questions seeking information about the incident.

Maine juvenile defense attorneys said in February that there had been at least two incidents of unrest at Long Creek since December and at least one resident was pepper-sprayed. The lawyers said they didn’t know enough specifics to describe what happened or why, so it was not clear if it was related to the Jan. 28 incident.

The attorneys also said young residents had been complaining about increased lockdowns, particularly during weekends, that were prompted by staffing issues.

It’s also kept them from serving their clients. Some attorneys said their clients have not been allowed to attend court hearings in person. Others want to be able to sit with their clients at Long Creek and call into a hearing together via Zoom.

Just days after the January incident, Long Creek staff sent a letter to the Maine Department of Corrections with a call to action. The facility was in crisis, they said, up against scheduling issues, declining recruitment and retention of staff, unsafe working conditions, and unsustainable work schedule expectations.

Without immediate action, the emotional and social development of the youth in their care would continue to suffer, they said.

But after seven weeks without a response from the Department of Corrections beyond confirmation that they received the letter, staff decided to go public with the letter in late March.

The Department of Corrections is well aware of issues with staffing. The letter was sent two weeks before Maine corrections officials told lawmakers they had to temporarily close two juvenile residential programs last year because the Corrections Department doesn’t have enough workers to staff the sites.

Administrators also told lawmakers at that February meeting that there are 36 vacancies out of the more than 80 security positions that deal directly with Long Creek residents.

Lawmakers tried to close Long Creek in 2021, but Gov. Janet Mills vetoed the legislation, saying it would take away Maine’s only secure facility for criminally charged youth who represent a risk to themselves or others.

It is predictable that inmates will try to escape from jail, but through officer teamwork, it is preventable. In the video below, risk management expert and Lexipol co-founder Gordan Graham discusses what that teamwork should entail.


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