Charleston facility to switch from youth to adult prison

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CHARLESTON — The Department of Corrections is changing the mission of a facility that has housed youthful offenders from northern and central Maine to one that will handle adult inmates, officials confirmed Monday.

The remaining nine juvenile inmates at the Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston recently were moved to the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, a change that is likely to lead to layoff notices being distributed in Charleston this week.

“It was hard to see the juveniles leave,” Jeff Morin, Mountain View superintendent, said Monday of last week’s transfer. “It was inevitable … the numbers continued to decline.”

Rod Hiltz, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, which represents many of the approximately 142 workers at Mountain View, said he expects layoffs but has been given very few details by the Department of Corrections.

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“It sounds pretty clear to me that they’re going to have a significant reduction in workforce, but we don’t know any details at this point,” said Hiltz. “We’re going to work with the administration to make sure the staffing transition goes smoothly. At this point we have not received any official notice about layoffs.”

Maine Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick said Monday that the consolidation of youth facilities has been needed for years as the number of young prison inmates in Maine has dwindled. He said the change will require layoffs at the Charleston facility but that he wouldn’t know how many for another day or two.

“We anticipate a staff reduction literally this week,” said Fitzpatrick. “We’re working very closely with a lot of input from the administrative team at Mountain View and I’ve had meetings with the whole staff myself. I’ve really made it clear to the staff that this isn’t just coming from the top down out of Augusta. … I want people running the operation to have input to where this is going.”

Fitzpatrick said that the Mountain View facility was originally built for up to 140 juvenile inmates and in past years regularly housed more than 100. However, he said because of an effort by the courts and other agencies to route young offenders to treatment and other nonprison alternatives, along with youth recidivism rates that have dropped considerably, the day-to-day population at Mountain View regularly dips into the single digits.

“When you get down to even 30 or 20 residents, that has to lead to questions about staffing,” said Fitzpatrick.

Mountain View — which is near the Charleston Correctional Facility, a medium-security facility for adults — has typically housed juveniles from the central and northern portions of Maine. Fitzpatrick said the Department of Corrections will work with families of young inmates who have been moved to Long Creek to help facilitate visits. Fitzpatrick said that could include everything from gas cards to a shuttle service to the availability of computer technology for remote communication.

Fitzpatrick said he and his staff are developing new plans for the Mountain View facility, including turning it into a site for inmates who are elderly or need complex and extensive medical treatments. He said it could also be the site of an enhanced therapeutic treatment center for young inmates ages 18-26 or a “step-up” outpatient program for substance abusers who don’t need the extensive, around-the-clock therapy that is offered at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.

Any such change likely will mean fewer employees.

“An adult medium facility will not be staffed like a juvenile facility,” Deputy Corrections Commissioner Jody Breton said.

The staff-to-inmate ratio for juveniles is 8-to-1 during the day and 16-to-1 at night, but fewer guards are required for adults, Morin said.

“Where we might house five to 10 kids, we’ll have upwards of 170 adults,” he said. “We have a significant need for adult beds.”

“They’ve known for a couple weeks that the facility’s mission was changing, that we are going to become an adult treatment facility,” Breton said. “What that will allow us to do is utilize the special training of the staff for treatment programs, interaction … and all those pieces will transfer nicely with the new treatment facility.”

For example, there are three staff trained at Mountain View to deal with sexual offenders.

“We have experts already on site” to help, Morin said.

“It’s enhanced care,” Breton said. “It’s for people who have medical issues, or who need assistance. Those who are wheelchair bound or just need extra time. We’re doing an enhanced care unit. We already have full-time medical staff and we’ll add [other services].”

“You can call it enhanced care or assisted living [but] we have a lot people who are younger who have those same needs,” she said. “We are trying to capitalize on the capabilities of the staff.”

“The treatment services are already there,” Breton said.

Morin said he has worked at Mountain View since the facility opened in 2002. The staff “have done an incredible job” making the youth program work, Morin said. He expects they will make the same effort with the new treatment facility.

“We now have a challenge with a new program that the staff can implement from the ground floor, again,” Morin said. “I anticipate … that the staff will rise to the occasion.”

Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, who is a member of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee, said Monday that he had not been notified of the change.

“I think the Mountain View facility was quite a gem and I would hate to see it shut down,” he said. “We do some incredible things there and we have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation. … We have to make a great investment in these kids if we’re going to turn them around.”

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, who also serves on the Criminal Justice Committee, said the change has been discussed dating back years but that he was concerned about any layoffs.

“We’ve done a lot of work over the past 10 or 15 years to reduce the recidivism rate,” he said.

Fitzpatrick said there will still be a few beds at Mountain View for juveniles who are on “hold” status, meaning they await placement in a community-based program or Department of Health and Human Services-run setting. Those young inmates would be strictly segregated from the adult population, said Fitzpatrick.

As a juvenile facility, Mountain View contained a school staffed with teachers, special educators and administrators, which will be discontinued.

“I can’t tell you that this is much of a surprise,” said Fitzpatrick of the change. “Two commissioners in a row have talked about this needing to happen. It’s about what’s best for the kids. When you get down to the single digits, it’s the right thing to do and this is the right time to do it.”

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