Governor Mills has signed LD 320 An Act to Provide the Right to Counsel for Juveniles and Improve Due Process for Juveniles into law. The law applies needed reforms to Maine’s juvenile legal system that will divert young children from incarceration and ensure that when youth are incarcerated they have an advocate in their corner able to articulate their concerns and ask for a closer look at their circumstances.

LD 320 will provide justice-involved youth with both the right to counsel upon incarceration and due process rights to seek alternatives to incarceration. It sets a minimum age of twelve for commitment to a juvenile correctional facility and provides that younger children may be detained no more than 7 days unless their lawyers agree. The bill ends the minimum one-year commitment to juvenile correctional facilities and requires judges to consider both the age of a young person and whether the offense committed would be considered a juvenile misdemeanor when deciding whether incarceration is appropriate. Rep. Victoria Morales of South Portland, who represents the District containing Long Creek Youth Development Center, sponsored the bill.

Mary L. Bonauto, GLAD’s Civil Rights Project Director, issued the following statement applauding the signing of the bill:

“Among our highest duties as a society is the care and support of young people. This is a step forward in shrinking the role of the criminal justice system in young people’s lives. LD 320 seeks to limit the use of secure confinement for Maine’s youngest children and provides all incarcerated young people with legal representation to seek the care, opportunities and support they need to be accountable, heal, and grow in healthy ways. This law recognizes that punitive measures are harmful and counterproductive to these goals and to public safety. Too many LGBTQ youth, youth of color, youth with disabilities, youth with limited financial means, and youth belonging to all of these categories, are pulled into the correctional system with unintended but significant long-term consequences. Most often, youth become entangled in the system for low level offenses and because there are no community services in place to keep them in their communities and connected to family and school. We’ve had many reports detailing the negative impacts of incarceration on children and their communities as well as recommendations for what our state needs to do to address those impacts. This bill is a positive step to move Maine forward and enable young people to succeed in taking their places in our communities.”

GLAD also testified in support of LD 1668, a bill led by Maine Youth Justice would that set a timetable for closing Long Creek over a period of years, provide a just transition for state workers, and reallocate resources into health care, education, employment and housing opportunities for youth. The legislature passed LD 1668 but it was vetoed by the governor.

Learn more about LD 320.