While the Long Creek youth prison does compare favorably with similar institutions nationwide, this is not a difficult task. The standard is abysmally low. Abuses in Texas recently lead to a shutdown of the entire juvenile justice system. In Pennsylvania a judge was convicted for funneling young "offenders" into youth prisons in return for monetary kickbacks. In soliciting perspective on the Long Creek "approach," Tapley quotes mostly the people who run the place; given that these administrators are dependent upon Long Creek and similar youth prisons for their livelihoods and careers, Tapley's approach is not serious journalism but rather an exercise in public relations.
Youth prisons have no role to play in a civilized society. The United States' position as world leader in incarcerating its citizens is a damning indictment of our societal values. Most pernicious and destructive of all is our eagerness to treat young people in trouble as criminals, transforming their self-image and their potential.
LANCE TAPLEY RESPONDS A theme in Smoke Signals, the fine book of memoirs by Long Creek residents that Bill Lundgren edited, is how Long Creek helped them escape from the drug-addicted, criminal nightmare they had been living. Here are three different kids: "I'm grateful for being incarcerated because it helped me change my life." "Being here has really focused me on success." "Once I got here and I spent a year getting drug counseling and family therapy and cognitive thinking skills, it really helped me realize how I was ruining my life. It really turned me around." Thus, I'm baffled by Lundgren's letter condemning Long Creek and my article. I'm sure there are things wrong with Long Creek, but the subject of my article was how relatively humane and successful it is compared to Maine's adult prisons. On balance, treatment is better than torture.
PRAISE FROM CORRECTIONS LEADER
I would like to commend Lance Tapley and the Portland Phoenix for the well-researched and thought-provoking article, "Lock-up Lessons" (April 8). Corrections is a complex profession, informed by research, risk-reduction methodology, and public expectations. Community safety is continually balanced against the possibilities of rehabilitation, the expenses incurred, and the potential cost avoidance to taxpayers. Your story of the Long Creek Youth Development Center documents that difficult work along with the important contributions that have been made by so many along the way.
More improvements are certainly possible and the Department of Corrections is committed to that. Your article places this work into perspective and we are appreciative of the time and considered attention that you gave to this important matter.
Associate Commissioner for Juvenile Services
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