Long Creek Youth Development Center, in South Portland last month. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Workers at the state’s only prison for youth and young adults are raising concerns about working conditions that they say have led to issues with staffing, safety and quality of life for the facility’s young residents.

The 41 educators, maintenance staff and supervisory staff at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland – represented by Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union – made recommendations and demanded “immediate action” in a letter to the Maine Department of Corrections sent in early February.

“We are in crisis at Long Creek,” the workers wrote. “The Maine Department of Corrections’ mission statement reads: ‘Making our communities safer by reducing harm through supportive intervention, empowering change, and restoring lives.’ Achieving this mission is difficult to meet under the current conditions at Long Creek Youth Development Center.”

All of the workers declined to speak with the Press Herald because they didn’t want to be singled out. But they went public with the letter on Tuesday night after seven weeks of silence from the Maine Department of Corrections, which operates Long Creek.


Long Creek houses youths under 21 years old who have been charged with or convicted of felony crimes. The prison housed anywhere from 16 to 39 residents on a daily basis in 2023.


In the latter half of 2023, there were 156 instances of violence – 27 fights, 37 assaults on residents, 23 resident assaults on staff and 58 uses of force on residents.

There have also been 11 significant incidents involving three or more residents, which Local 1989 Legislative Coordinator Jonathan Brown said are considered riots by staff. And, Brown said, in some instances these riots have caused up to $500,000 in damages to the facility.

“I would get calls very late at night saying ‘we had another riot, when is the department going to take this seriously?’ ” said Brown, who until February was the Long Creek Local 1989 members’ field representative. “We have staff getting injured, we have kids getting injured – it’s a nightmare.”

All of the violent incidents are directly correlated to staffing issues, the workers said in the letter.

“Over the past four years, the chronic staffing and scheduling issues, declining recruitment and retention of staff, unsafe working conditions, and unsustainable work schedule expectations have persistently placed our resident children and staff in harm’s way, and we believe this is entirely avoidable.”



The Department of Corrections is well aware of issues with staffing. The letter was sent two weeks before Maine corrections officials told lawmakers they had to temporarily close two juvenile residential programs last year because the Corrections Department doesn’t have enough workers to staff the sites.

Administrators also told lawmakers at that February meeting that there are 36 vacancies out of the more than 80 security positions that deal directly with Long Creek residents.

Meanwhile, Long Creek’s superintendent, Lynne Allen, resigned for undisclosed personal reasons on March 22.

Workers say in the letter that the staffing issues date back four years. They have been caused by “scheduling issues, declining recruitment and retention of staff, unsafe working conditions, and unsustainable work schedule expectations.”

The understaffing has created a cycle of “forced overtime” – including mandatory 12 hour shifts – causing staff burnout causing high turnover and vacant positions.



The effects of staffing shortages affect the quality of life for the incarcerated youth, the workers believe.

Along with violent incidents, the staffing shortages have led to what attorneys told the Press Herald are days with 23-hour facility lockdowns. Workers say the lockdowns isolate and traumatize residents, causing them to act out. The lockdowns have also increased instances of mental health crises and suicide watches, which the facility struggles to comply with because of understaffing.

Attorneys say the lockdowns have also made it more challenging for them to have access to their clients.

Workers are also concerned about youth lacking access to adequate supports because the department has cut positions in educational, athletic, behavioral and emotional services.

“The state cannot continuously neglect the needs of the youth currently in our care,” the workers wrote. “Without immediate action, their social and emotional development will continue to suffer.”



The workers laid out 13 recommendations that they want the Corrections Department to adopt.

These include addressing staffing levels, schedule rotation and unit assignment, adding recruitment and retention stipends, create a collaborative process for assigning shift schedules, barring forced overtime, and reestablishing cut positions in education.

“We are in crisis at Long Creek. It is imperative that the Commissioner’s office and the facility administration provide immediate attention to these matters to ensure our ability to carry out our duties in accordance with state and federal laws … and to best serve the state of Maine’s public,” the workers wrote.

While the letter was sent nearly two months ago, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 made their concerns public for the first time Tuesday because they say the Corrections Department hasn’t taken action on the recommendations.

“It is egregious to ignore these problems, as we have repeatedly called for additional resources and Department support,” the letter said.

Brown said that the department noted it had received the letter, but has not yet addressed the concerns. The Department has offered to meet with Local 1989, but a time has not yet been confirmed.

It’s a part of a larger issue of staff feeling that their voices are not heard by administrators, said Brown.

“They just really, really need support,” Brown said.

The Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for comment by late Tuesday.

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