September 19, 2019

In praise of Marlee’s Law

Maine should be proud of passing Marlee’s Law, which allows blended juvenile and adult sentences in certain cases. It joins a few other progressive states that have blended sentences and recognize that, in most cases, juveniles do not belong in adult correctional facilities, most of which are ill-equipped to deal with their special needs.

Studies have shown that juveniles sentenced to adult facilities are at much higher risk for physical and sexual abuse by other inmates and even staff, and have a higher rate of suicide than youths who remain in juvenile facilities. Their medical, mental health and educational needs are often neglected, and they do not receive the rehabilitative treatment they would in the juvenile justice system. Of great concern are the findings that juveniles waived to the adult system, when compared with those who committed comparable crimes and remained in the juvenile justice system, reoffend more often and sooner once released. In addition, the cost of housing juveniles in an adult facility is about twice that of a juvenile facility.

Most juvenile defendants, despite seemingly egregious crimes, can benefit from care and rehabilitation and eventually be returned to society. Maine is fortunate to have two juvenile facilities that offer a variety of programs for these troubled youths.

It is particularly moving that Ted Johnston, Marlee’s father, advocated for this legislation to honor his daughter’s “kind and compassionate nature.” It is easy to see how she came by it. While many such parents would feel vindictive and nurture their anger, he chose the higher road.

Diane H. Schetky


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