August 11, 2020
Our commitment to LGBTQ youth means we work with youth from all walks of life, as individuals and in families, and in the state and local “systems” of education, child welfare, and juvenile justice. Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto served on the Maine Juvenile Justice Re-investment Task Force in 2019-20. The Task Force’s Final Report showed the strong connections between incarceration and previous school suspensions (or “push out”) and past child welfare findings about children experiencing harm. Young people in the juvenile criminal system are disproportionately youth of color and LGBTQ.
Further, the biennial health survey of Maine youth shows that LGBTQ youth are still more likely to feel unsupported at home, to be bullied at school, to contemplate suicide, and to use drugs and alcohol than their non-LGBTQ peers. Even though young people are resilient, rejection from families and system involvement disrupt childhood, impede development, and create higher risk of mental and behavioral health challenges, homelessness, and adult incarceration.
In the past six months, we have been on the ground in the Maine legislature and in policy settings, working with young people and many adult allies to bring basic reforms to the juvenile system to encourage diversion, end incarceration for the purpose of “supervision” of a youth who has nowhere to go, to shorten sentences, and bring more due process into the system by assigning youth lawyers who can petition for less restrictive alternatives. We are also supporting both legislative and COVID-19-driven collaborative efforts to remove young people from Maine’s youth prison and into the community with the safety and supports everyone needs.
Among many other initiatives, we also continue our Maine work addressing school policing and advocacy for restorative justice, supporting the youth led-campaign to close the Long Creek juvenile detention center, advocating for LGBTQ-competent policy changes to state agencies and on data collection, and service on the Justice for Children Task Force, convened by the State Supreme Judicial Court. The city of Portland made a landmark decision in June to remove school resource officers, thus removing police officers from public school campuses. You can read Mary Bonauto’s testimony supporting this important development here.