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Justice Varies with Geography for Juveniles in Maine

Though Maine has tried to send fewer teenagers to prison -- emphasizing rehabilitation programs instead – efforts have played out unevenly in the state's rural north, The New York Times reports, after a year-long investigation by Callie Ferguson, one of the Times’ Local Investigations fellows, reported in partnership with Big Local News at Stanford University. Like a growing number of jurisdictions across the nation, Maine has emphasized rehabilitation in its approach to juvenile justice, sending fewer teenagers to prison. Yet Ferguson’s investigation found wide disparities by county. For example, Aroostook County, in Maine’s far north, has sent 20 adolescents to the state’s only youth prison while York County in southern Maine has sent half that, despite three times as many residents.


The disparities by county, in imprisonment rates and even in the proportion of adolescents who end up with felony convictions, appears to stem from philosophical differences over the appropriate response to teenagers who get in trouble, the varying availability of services across the state and the unequal distribution of lawyers and caseloads, according to interviews with defense attorneys, law enforcement officials and former corrections officials. Such differences are troubling to many involved in the juvenile system. “Justice should not be defined by where in the state a child lives,” said Sarah Branch, a former juvenile prosecutor who is now a defense lawyer and director of the Youth Justice Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law. “What we have right now are barriers for some children that don’t exist for others.”

 

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