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Maine Probation System Struggles, As 713 Have Died Since 2013

From 2013 through 2023, 713 people in Maine’s adult community corrections system died on probation, according to data provided via Freedom of Access Act requests from advocates and the Maine Morning Star — an average of about 65 people a year. The deaths haven’t been evenly distributed. A total of 37 people died while on probation in 2013, but the number rose to 63 in 2023. The trendline of deaths on probation has largely crept upwards since 2013, reaching a high of 85 in 2022, the Maine Morning Star reports. The deaths come as fatalities within Maine’s prisons and jails have emerged as an area of concern. National research has found that people who have been incarcerated generally have worse health outcomes than those who haven’t been imprisoned, including a higher rate of fatal opioid overdoses. Although many Mainers on probation have never served prison time, a Maryland-based study showed that even being arrested is associated with a high risk of death by overdose.  

In the effort to identify the primary drivers of probation deaths, most believe Maine’s drug overdose epidemic — which claimed 607 lives in 2023 — is a significant factor. Winifred Tate, director of the Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College, says, "It would stand to reason that that’s something that’s an ongoing issue because we know that being arrested and/or incarcerated disrupts [substance use care] for the lucky people who are able to get it and does not provide care for the people who need it,” .Around 60% of people in the state’s prisons suffer from substance use disorder. And while Maine does have services to help those with opioid addictions, Tate said addressing substance use within prison is inherently flawed because such care often fails to address the root causes of the problem. An important part of recovery, Tate said, is building relationships and community, which is difficult while incarcerated. She added that people in prison already often experience a deterioration in their relationships with those on the outside, another reason they are vulnerable on reentry. 


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