June 16, 2019

Plan to privatize youth center criticized before lawmakers

SOUTH PORTLAND — Critics of a plan to “privatize” the Maine Youth Center told the Joint Select Committee on Corrections on Friday that the state is moving too fast with the proposal.

Corrections Commissioner Donald Allen told lawmakers that the goal is to turn over some programs to private agencies by July so the state can save up to $2 million by tapping into federal Medicaid funds.

But the lawmakers admitted that they’re apprehensive about the swift changes and hinted that more studies are needed before the state commits to hiring outsiders to perform tasks at the state’s only youth detention center.

“There’s not a lot of confidence here,” said Rep. Susan Dore, D-Auburn.

Critics included Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood, who urged against cutting state funding to the institution at a time when violent crimes by juveniles are increasing in Maine’s largest city.

Chitwood said state cuts could eventually require the release of 100 inmates, returning them to other programs and facilities in the community that “do not exist.”

“Privatization may be a good idea, but it needs long, thorough and thoughtful study, not hasty reaction in a monetary crisis,” Chitwood told lawmakers.

Gov. John R. McKernan wants to hire outsiders to provide some Youth Center services, possibly including education, medical care and treatment programs for sex offenders and drug and alcohol abusers.

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