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State is withholding info on juvenile inmates who attempted suicide, advocacy group says

Bangor Daily News - 11/22/2018

Nov. 21--By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff --November 21, 20183:43 pm

An advocacy group is suing the state to learn more about inmates at Maine's youth prison who have attempted suicide over the past six months.

The organization, Disability Rights Maine, argues that the information is necessary for an investigation into whether "abuse, neglect or both" are taking place at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland.

The group claimed it has received numerous complaints about treatment of inmates at the facility, including at least five separate cases that led to suicide attempts since March, and that the state's refusal to provide the requested records amounts to obstruction of a federally obligated probe into the matter.

[Prison cannot treat severely mentally ill youth, report says]

"Several complainants alleged that Long Creek youth were not receiving the behavioral supports and interventions they required and were at risk of self-harm and suicide, placing the youth, residents and others at risk of injury or death," the lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor, reads, in part.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Maine Department of Corrections and state Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick.

Neither a spokesman for Disability Rights Maine nor Fitzpatrick immediately responded to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

The Disability Rights Maine lawsuit comes two years after the high-profile suicide of an inmate at the juvenile correctional facility, a case which spurred probes into staffing and training at Long Creek, as well as repeated calls for reform at the youth prison or its outright closure.

One oversight group in 2016 reported that Long Creek "is not medically equipped to deal with ... youth in acute mental health crisis," despite findings at the time that nearly 85 percent of the youths sent to the facility came with three or more mental health diagnoses each.

[Staff shortages plague 'dumping ground' for youth with mental illnesses]

In February, with new leadership taking over at the facility, Fitzpatrick publicly signaled progress, saying fewer Long Creek inmates at that time were hurting themselves or threatening suicide, although he said some continued to do so as "a maladaptive coping strategy."

Now, Disability Rights Maine is investigating what it calls in its lawsuit "evidence of a facility-wide failure to provide youth with disabilities with programs and services that are required by law."

The group argues that such a failure could leave inmates struggling with mental health problems at greater risk of self-harm or suicide.

The organization argues in its complaint that under federal law, as the state's officially designated advocate for people with disabilities, Disability Rights Maine has the authority to access records of those inmates battling disabilities.

In an Aug. 30 letter, the group allegedly asked for a list of youths at Long Creek who had attempted suicide over the past six months, as well as the names and contact information of their guardians, where applicable. The request was denied by an attorney representing the Department of Corrections on Sept. 7, according to the organization.

[Death of suicidal teen at Long Creek was preventable, his mother says]

Disability Rights Maine filed a second request on Sept. 18 seeking all records pertaining to six specific inmates who had complained to the advocacy group, including signed authorizations from the inmates or their guardians for the group to access those records.

After about two weeks of correspondence between the two parties' attorneys, corrections officials ultimately provided what the organization described in its lawsuit as incomplete and redacted records pertaining to the six inmates in question.

Disability Rights Maine "suffers immediate and irreparable injury to its ability to investigate the complaints alleging neglect and abuse if Long Creek's records are further withheld, limited or modified," the lawsuit reads, in part.

"Youth at Long Creek are at ongoing risk of injury as a result of this neglect, which requires immediate investigation and advocacy by [Disability Rights Maine]," the lawsuit reads.

To reach a suicide prevention hotline, call 888-568-1112 or 800-273-TALK (8255), or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Follow BDN Portland on Facebook for the latest news in Greater Portland and southern Maine.

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(c)2018 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)

Visit the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine) at www.bangordailynews.com

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