Lock-up lessons

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  April 14, 2011

But treatment isn't easy. Most kids found guilty of a crime go on probation, stay with their family, and never go to a youth center, so “Kids have to work pretty hard to get here,” observes Colin O’Neill, Long Creek’s deputy superintendent for treatment. They're tough cases. The typical resident is male — only 20 or so girls are at Long Creek — and 16 to 18 years old. They usually have multiple violations behind them, come from poverty, and often have family members who have run afoul of the law. Almost universally they have a substance-abuse history.
Long Creek treatment involves a lot of psychotherapy — primarily, group therapy. Long Creek doesn’t rehabilitate, it “habilitates,” the staff says in chorus. They have to teach correct behavior for the first time. A “risk reduction” class that students take four times a week uses role-playing to illustrate how to solve personal problems and teaches breathing techniques for stress reduction. The kids "kind of teach each other,” says Becky Yarborough, a risk-reduction teacher who has a master’s in psychology.

Philip Smith, 18, of South Portland, an engaging young man with a wispy goatee and dark-rimmed glasses who says he’s in for stealing a car, says Long Creek “brings out who you really are.” He describes a challenging family background, but now he is learning how not “to act like other people. . . . Some people try to bring you down with them.”

Bouffard, O’Neill, and Eric Gilliam, the deputy superintendent for operations, all come from a mental-health-treatment background, with no previous experience in corrections. Bouffard was superintendent of both the Augusta Mental Health Institute (AMHI, now Riverview Psychiatric Center) and the Pineland Center for developmentally disabled people. Gilliam worked at Pineland and AMHI as chief operating officer, and O’Neill was a social worker at group homes for disturbed kids.

In a typical prison, security staff tend to rule, as they did at the old Maine Youth Center. But, Bouffard says, "Good treatment is good security.”

“If a therapist gave a kid a soda,” he adds, recalling the bad old days, "A security staffer would take the soda away and say ‘This session is over.’”

To create the new atmosphere, a lot of employee training was necessary. And some new staff were necessary, Bouffard says. “It was no fun."

INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION Philip Smith, 18, a Long Creek resident, likes the school's small-scale focus.

Education and community involvement

The new management team’s arrival at Long Creek roughly coincided with the opening in 2002 of a new building next to the old, Victorian-looking Maine Youth Center administration building, which now houses private offices. Except for a wire fence, the new center looks like a new high school. In fact, it includes one, the fully accredited A.R. Gould School. Graduates receive regular diplomas.

Ann Marie Barter, the assistant principal, says that while student IQs have a normal range, many students have dyslexia and a lot of “missed school.” To tackle such problems, in addition to small class sizes, there are volunteer tutors or mentors. Emmy Brown of Brunswick, the longtime volunteer coordinator and herself a volunteer, says the 100 citizens who give an hour a week “feel this is a private school,” albeit one with locked doors.

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