An advocacy group is suing the Maine Department of Corrections for access to records of attempted suicides at the state’s only juvenile detention facility.
Disability Rights Maine filed its lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor. The complaint alleges the department is obstructing an investigation into claims that youths with disabilities are abused and neglected at Long Creek Youth Development Center. 
The lawsuit comes as the South Portland detention facility has been the focus of repeated calls for reform or closure in recent years.
An independent review found last year that Long Creek is chronically understaffed and ill-equipped to handle the serious mental health needs of young residents who often are placed there because there is nowhere else for them to go. That report followed the 2016 suicide of a transgender teenager, Charles Maisie Knowles — the first suicide at the facility in decades.
“Several complainants alleged that Long Creek youth were not receiving the behavioral supports and interventions they required and were at risk of self-harm and suicide, placing the youth, residents, and others at risk of injury or death,” the lawsuit states.
“DRM’s monitoring of Long Creek found evidence of a facilitywide failure to provide youth with disabilities with programs and services that are required by law. DRM has not been able to fully investigate these complaints due to an inability to access necessary records.”
A lawyer for Disability Rights Maine did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick said Tuesday only that he had not yet received the lawsuit and does not typically comment on pending litigation.
The state has designated Disability Rights Maine as the protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities, including developmental disabilities and mental illness. The group argues that role allows it to access certain records under federal law.
Between March and July, Disability Rights Maine received complaints from six individuals “alleging serious neglect in the Long Creek youth facility,” according to the lawsuit. Five complaints during that time reported that a youth in detention had attempted suicide.
As a result, the group opened an investigation and wrote a letter to Long Creek Superintendent Caroline Raymond. That letter included a request for multiple documents, including the names of residents who had attempted suicide and information about suicide prevention.
The lawsuit described a back-and-forth correspondence that ensued between the Maine Attorney General’s Office and Disability Rights Maine. The state denied the request for information without citing any reason to do so under the law.
Disability Rights Maine provided a signed authorization from six individuals or their guardians, giving the group access to their records.
In October, the state allowed the group to review some of the requested records but continued to withhold others. For more than seven weeks, the state has communicated with Disability Rights Maine about its request for the missing records.
The lawsuit does not specifically say what services are not available to residents at Long Creek.
It gives some examples of records that were not provided to Disability Rights Maine, such as daily behavior cards for all six individuals.
“Youth at Long Creek are at ongoing risk of injury as a result of this neglect, which requires immediate investigation and advocacy from DRM,” the lawsuit states.
The court has not yet set a deadline for the state to respond to the lawsuit.

Charles Maisie Knowles

An advocacy group is suing the Maine Department of Corrections for access to records of attempted suicides at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald file photo)

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