Children should not be in prison – it is a failed system that harms young people and wastes the state’s resources. We need to shift our priorities and our funding away from incarceration and punishment, to community-based alternatives that give children appropriate support and allow them to thrive.

The goals of LD 320 are to ensure fewer children are incarcerated, shorter periods of incarceration for those children who are imprisoned, and access to an attorney at every phase of a child’s juvenile court case.

In part, LD 320 makes three important changes

  • Currently under Maine law, children of any age can be charged with a crime and sent to prison. LD 320 establishes 12 as the youngest age at which children can be charged with a crime.
  • Maine requires that children committed to Long Creek, the state’s youth detention facility, be held a minimum of one year. Maine’s one-year mandatory minimum requirement for any offense is an outlier. The vast majority of states, including all other New England states, have no such minimum. LD 320 repeals this requirement.
  • After children are committed to Long Creek, they lose access to their court-appointed lawyers. Maine is failing at its constitutional obligation to ensure all people – including children – charged with a crime and deprived of their liberty have access to an attorney. LD 320 would restore access.

Sponsors

Rep. Victoria Morales

Session

130

Bill number

Position

Support

1. ACLU of Maine Testimony Supporting LD 320

Q.ACLU of Maine Testimony Supporting LD 320
A.

On Feb. 24, 2021, the ACLU of Maine offered testimony supporting LD 320. It read, in part:

"The United States Supreme Court has recognized that 'children are constitutionally different from adults… Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform… ‘they are less deserving of the most severe punishments.’

"That court has also noted that 'developments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds — for example, in parts of the brain involved in behavior control. [It] reasoned that those findings — of transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences—both lessened a child’s moral culpability and enhanced the prospect that, as the years go by and neurological development occurs, his deficiencies will be reformed.'

"Layered onto this issue is how race, and our perceptions of race, affect children. The Children’s Center on Law and Policy found that 23 percent of kids who were detained at Long Creek in a year were Black or African American.5 This is likely, in part, because of how society views Black and white children differently. Studies show that Black boys as young as 10 years old are perceived as 'responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.'

"The constitutional requirement that youth are necessarily different from adults empowers this committee to make categorical rules establishing which young children are so young, so underdeveloped, that criminal charges and imprisonment are inappropriate responses when they do harm."

Read our entire testimony here.