A reduction in restraints and solitary confinement is a humanitarian success. The proof of success for most citizens, however, would be if Long Creek’s alumni stayed on the straight and narrow, as has been claimed.
Stoodley, the associate commissioner, says a study done in 1999 (then it was called the Maine Youth Center) found that 75 percent of the kids who had been “committed” (sentenced) there — as opposed to short-term detentions — came back within a year. In the early 2000s Stoodley, responding to scandals and a lawsuit stemming from the facility's harsh conditions, put in place Superintendent Bouffard, a new supporting team, and the new philosophy — treatment not punishment.
Now, Stoodley says, the one-year reimprisonment rate runs 15 to 20 percent, and Mountain View’s numbers “are in the same ball park.” Looking at first-time offenders, the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School found that in the entire juvenile system roughly 23 percent were reconvicted in the first year out. For those released in 2006, 39 percent had been reconvicted after three years.
How do those numbers compare with Maine adult recidivism? Another Muskie School study found 33 percent were reincarcerated within three years. But this figure doesn’t include individuals sentenced to jails or probation. The missing component could be large. A benchmark national study looked at prisoners released in 1994 and found that within three years 68 percent had been rearrested.
So it’s hard to know exactly how Maine's juvenile and adult recidivism compare. Recidivism studies generally are hard to compare. For example, some look at rearrests, others reconvictions, still others reincarcerations. But Commissioner Ponte is convinced Maine’s juvenile system is doing well: “Any way you look at it, the juvenile system compares very well nationally.”
And, supportive of the treatment approach, studies in Maine and other states show that education, job training, and psychological and substance-abuse counseling can be effective. Jody Breton, the associate commissioner who replaced Denise Lord, has a chart showing enormous improvements in the recidivism rates of ex-prisoners who had gone through a sex-offender, substance-abuse, or “women’s re-entry” program compared with those who hadn't.
Preventing a prisoner’s recidivism saves society enormous costs. This is seen most vividly when kids are prevented from becoming adult offenders. The social-science-minded Stoodley points to a study that shows society saves between $2.6 million and $5.3 million for each 14-year-old diverted from a life of crime and punishment. Diverting adolescents means striking while the iron is hot. Proportionally, 18-year-olds commit the greatest number of violent crimes. Such a diversion can be calculated also in murders, rapes, and assaults avoided.
TREATMENT ORIENTED From left, Colin O’Neill, head of treatment; Rodney Bouffard, superintendent; Eric Gilliam, head of operations at Long Creek.
Applying the treatment philosophy
Many kids in the juvenile system are “very disturbed,” says Stoodly. They tend to be emotional risk-takers. At Long Creek 60 percent are on antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and psycho-stimulants.
To help these kids, Stoodly says, “It has to be treatment. Punishment gets negative results. There’s no study ever done that shows a punishment model gets good results.” This is true, he adds, for both juveniles and adults.