UPDATE: On Wednesday, we learned that Rep. Pingree will continue her support as a sponsor of the Youth PROMISE Act! Join us in thanking her.

Last Tuesday, along with a group of partnering organizations, I met with members of Congresswoman Pingree’s staff to urge her to sign on as a co-sponsor of the Youth PROMISE Act

The Youth PROMISE (Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education) Act is a bipartisan bill that would provide much needed resources to communities to develop comprehensive prevention and intervention programs to address and prevent youth violence and end the school-to-prison pipeline.

In addition to having the largest adult correctional system in the world, the United States is also the number one incarcerator of juveniles. While our arrest rates for juveniles are only marginally higher than that of other developed nations, we imprison at five times the rate of the next closest country. On any given day, 100,000 youth are incarcerated in detention facilities throughout the country. 

Unfortunately, we see truly negative outcomes for youth going through the juvenile justice system.  According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute, incarceration has a profoundly negative impact on a young person’s mental and physical well-being, their education and future employment. One psychologist found that for one-third of incarcerated youth diagnosed with depression, the onset of the depression occurred after they were detained. Another study found that existing high rates of poor mental health coupled with the experience of detention, make incarcerated youth statistically more likely to engage in self-harm or suicide. Similarly, research has demonstrated that formerly incarcerated youth face significant challenges when returning to school (often dropping out). Economists have even demonstrated that incarcerating youth will reduce their future earnings and their ability to successfully participate in the workforce.

Recidivism rates for youth in the juvenile justice system are also phenomenally high. Nationally, studies indicate that somewhere between 60%-70% of youth will be re-arrested – often times landing in the adult criminal justice system. The same report by the Justice Policy Institute found that when controlling for all other factors, the experience of incarceration was the most significant factor in increasing a youth's likelihood of committing another crime.

Here in Maine, we are pretty lucky. We have only two juvenile detention facilities - Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston – and a daily average of 195 incarcerated youth. However, we can still do better. As Maine is considered a national leader on juvenile justice, we believe we are well positioned to serve as a model for implementing alternatives. The Youth PROMISE Act would provide the much needed resource to make it possible.