Letter to the Editor: Fixing Maine’s youth justice system long overdue, but there’s new hope

Nov. 1 marked two years since Charles Maze Knowles, a 16-year-old trans organizer and Portland Outright community leader, died by suicide while detained at Long Creek Youth Development Center – Maine’s youth prison.

LGBTQ+ young people from poor communities in Maine continue to fall through the cracks left by a broken social services infrastructure and into emergency rooms, shelters, prison and jail. Here in Portland, pervasive homelessness is tied to dramatic gentrification and to our state’s devastating opiate crisis, which has been exaggerated by funding cuts to lifesaving resources. We see all of this playing out in the experiences of young people at our organization, as they navigate different intersections of these oppressive crises and continue to struggle for resources and survival.

Right now, Maine is experiencing a moment with the potential for transformation. This November marks the imminent end of eight years of neglect and indifference under the tenure of Gov. Paul LePage. Our political system needs to shift to meet the needs of all Mainers.

It’s time for those in positions of power to listen to those most affected by the decisions made about public policy – and the tax dollars that follow. It’s time to create the future of youth justice, by investing public dollars in a continuum of community-based alternatives to incarceration for Maine’s young people. Two years have already been too long to enact the structural changes that came too late for Maze Knowles.

Portland Outright stands behind a vision of justice without incarceration for low-income youth, LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color in Maine. We will continue to organize for Maze, and for all young people who are organizing, surviving and rising up behind bars. We ask our new governor and elected leaders to listen and work with us to imagine this better future.

Osgood, executive director, Portland Outright

This Letter to the Editor was featured in the Portland Press Herald on November 16, 2018