Lessons learned

Letters to the Portland Phoenix Editor, April 15, 2011


"Lock-up Lessons" by Lance Tapley (April 8) is a superb article and perfectly timed. Mr. Tapley gives reinforcement to the positive steps that Corrections Commissioner Ponte says he will take to improve Maine's adult prisons. Tapley also acknowledges important achievements of hard working staff and administration in Maine's juvenile centers. This coverage gives us a little more hope. Thank you.

Judy Garvey
Blue Hill


I was worriedly wondering if an end had come to the series of insightful and enlightening articles on Maine prisons by Lance Tapley. It has struck me as a topic that has not gotten enough needed attention and a story that has not ended in the much-needed reform of Maine prisons and especially the "supermaxes."

So I read with relief and delight Mr. Tapley's recent article, "Lock-up Lessons" (April 8). This one was well worth waiting for and it was great to see solutions talked about. I can see how that would help get more people on board with this issue. The stories of the kids and their more positive strivings (along with the photo of one of them) strikes me as rendering them as the kind of regular individuals one can sympathize with and care about.

I hope you and Mr. Tapley will keep up such good work at the Phoenix!

Jim Lindsley


While applauding past reportage from Lance Tapley regarding the Maine adult prison system, in his rush to push an agenda offering alternative policies to the adult prison system he has produced a picture of Long Creek youth prison that is misleading and destructive to the interests of young people (see "Lock-Up Lessons," by Lance Tapley, April 8).

In the fall of 2006 while working as a consultant for the Student Press Initiative at Columbia University-Teachers College I ran a writing program for Long Creek's young prisoners. The result of our labors was Smoke Signals: Oral Histories from Long Creek, a collection of memoirs by the students that is widely read and discussed in schools across the US. It is revealing that prior to publication the administration made efforts to halt publication and then to censor the book. They would have preferred the book to paint Long Creek as Tapley's Phoenix article does; Smoke Signals includes the warts. (See "What Maine's Prison For Kids Is Really Like," by Tony Giampetruzzi, April 6, 2007.)

Clearly Long Creek has helped some young people in trouble; at an annual cost of $149,000 per inmate it is assumed there would be at least some positive results. But research has convincingly shown that the most effective way to help young people in trouble is through a combination of intensive family therapy, in-home detention, and/or halfway houses, substance abuse counseling and drug court, at far less cost than running a prison. Locking them up in prison, as Long Creek most assuredly is, is simply another step in an inexorable process of identification and criminalization. What most juvenile offenders have in common is their socioeconomic status — nearly all of them are from poor families. (Of course in states other than Maine, nearly all of them are kids of color.) This process of identifying "troublemakers" early, has become a crucial link in the increasingly profit-driven prison industrial process; just as the Portland Sea Dogs serve as a feeder for the Red Sox, Long Creek and other youth prisons function as feeder and training ground for the adult prison system.

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