LEWISTON — Like the rest of the nation, Maine’s incarceration rate at prisons and jails has spiked.

Nationally, the incarceration rate has jumped 500 percent in the past 30 years; in Maine the rate has climbed 300 percent in the same time.

To decrease the number of people in jails and prisons, more programs would be needed in communities, said Andrew Robinson, district attorney for Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.

“And by the way, I’d be supportive of that,” he said during a panel discussion about criminal justice reform at Bates College on Saturday.

“If you took away all the cases that involve addiction and mental health, I could start using my vacation time. I could binge-watch Netflix,” Robinson said. “Because that’s our work. That’s where we spend our time. It is rarely a straight-forward someone’s a criminal who came and did something horrible.”

At the juvenile level, Maine has dramatically reduced the number of youths incarcerated by changing how it worked with young people, addressing the causes of behavior, said Maine Corrections juvenile case worker Jay Pennell.

Pennell used to be a caseworker at the Maine Youth Center. Twenty years ago, the center had 500 kids a day in custody. “Currently, the average is 110 to 120 kids a day,” Pennell said. “That’s a big change.”

The youth center “started recognizing that what we were doing was not working. We started looking at, and started asking kids not, ‘What did you do?’ but, ‘What happened to you?'”

Youth center staff got training in brain development, trauma, substance abuse. “That’s the stuff we have to address in order to reduce recidivism,” he said.


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