A new University of Southern Maine study on the services available in Androscoggin County to help challenged youths shows that while many services exist, greater investment would “dramatically” help the county and reduce the cost of incarceration and other response services.

According to the report, there are good reasons why local officials should strive for more investment:

• Androscoggin County has the lowest rate for high school graduation (74%), the highest rate of school suspensions (14%), and the highest rate of violent crime (19.1 crimes per 1,000 people) across all Maine counties among the 14- to 24-year-old demographic, the study found.

• The statewide average graduation rate is 87%, according to the report, while the suspension rate is 5.2%, and the crime rate 16.3%.

The report released by USM’s Cutler Institute — “Assessing Community Assets and Opportunities – A Case Study of Asset Mapping in Androscoggin County” — highlights the county’s youth assets and the challenges of dealing with older youth in the 14-24 age group who are in the system.

The study’s authors wanted to “talk to people who are on the ground doing work with young people,” said Mara Sanchez, one of the report’s three authors. “(We wanted to) hear from them from what good things were happening in their region and what they felt were the needs.”

Cover of “Assessing Community Assets and Opportunities – A Case Study of Asset Mapping in Androscoggin County,” done by the University of Southern Maine’s Cutler Institute. University of Southern Maine

The report looked at five aspects like juvenile justice, child welfare, homelessness, being pushed out of the educational system and mental and behavioral health systems.

Sanchez believes some of the aspects they looked at are linked to together.

“What we were trying to do is look at how youth are served by child service systems and how they are not served,” Sanchez said. “So, what we have found talking to young people who are in the youth justice system, they often touch all these other buckets. It’s very common for youth who are at Long Creek (Youth Developmental Center in South Portland) to have gone through the child welfare system or the foster care system before ending up at Long Creek.

“It’s very common for young people to be homeless maybe after being involved in the youth justice system or vice versa,” Sanchez said. “If you went to talk to the kids at Long Creek right now, 100 percent of them would say they were systematic or had a long history of being expelled.”

For the report, Sanchez noted several organizations have done positive work, including Tree Street Youth, New Beginnings, restorative justice programs such as Restorative Justice Institute of Maine, the Take2 Youthbuild program at Goodwill of Northern New England, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and Tri-County Mental Health Services.

The goal of the report is to expand services for the challenged youth.

“We have a number of recommendations, but I think the one that really stands out is the need for more programs, more community-based alternatives,” Sanchez said. “There are a lot of great programs happening in Androscoggin (county), but the question is are they accessible to people outside Lewiston and Auburn. Are they serving enough youth? What is their capacity? That was beyond the scope of the report to really assess but we did a little of that. That work needs to be done. Tree Street Youth is serving 50 kids, but there are hundreds of kids who may need those types of services in Androscoggin County.”

On Monday, the Lewiston School Committee voted 8-1 on a feasibility study to convert the former Longley Elementary School building into homeless youth center.

Sanchez doesn’t have the data on what it would cost to add more community-based services, but looks at states such as Washington, which has an extensive online cost benefit analysis on programs taxpayers are supporting.

“It can show, pennies on the dollar, you can serve young people in preventative and early intervention type of ways that keep them away from getting further involved (in trouble),” Sanchez said of Washington state’s cost-benefit analysis. “There is a lot of savings that can be had reinvesting from stuff like incarceration or residential placement. You can really get better outcomes for a lot less money.”

The report is the third in the Place Matters series, authored by Sanchez, Erica King and Starsha Schiller of the Justice Policy Program within USM’s Cutler Institute.

The first report in Place Matters series looked at state policies, while the second looked at the data from the first report and had snapshots of the data from every county.


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