2013-06-21 / People

Neighbors

New Long Creek leader familiar face
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Jeff Merrill Jeff Merrill The architecture of Arthur R. Gould School in South Portland resembles a fairly typical high school in Maine. Visitors pass a gymnasium with fluorescent lights and basketballs scattered on the floor, then descend a set of stairs to a hallway with a library, music room and classrooms on either side of the tiled floor.

However, there are certain markers that indicate the A.R. Gould School is different. Visitors are required to leave cell phones at the front desk. Every door in the building is always locked. To pass, visitors press a button and wait for a staff member in a control room to permit access. The outdoor basketball courts are enclosed by large, angled fences that run the length of the property.

The A.R. Gould School operates within Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, where about 90 incarcerated boys and nine incarcerated girls are housed.

Jeff Merrill was recently named the new superintendent of the Long Creek Youth Development Center. He has served as the acting superintendent since January, when Rodney Bouffard left the position to take over as warden at the Maine State Prison in Warren.

The attitude of the residents of Long Creek Youth Development Center are fairly typical of teenagers anywhere. When Merill asked two boys what they think of their school and the facility, they responded with one-word answers: “Boring.” “Dull.” Square.”

When asked to provide details, however, like most teenagers, the boys said things aren’t so bad. They said they were looking forward to summer, when classes move to halfdays and the facility offers summer recreational programs such as basketball, gardening and carpentry. Throughout the year, the facility also offers programs such as crocheting, radio production through WMPG’s “Blunt Youth Radio” and athletics.

The A.R. Gould soccer and basketball teams both made the postseason tournaments, and the ultimate Frisbee team competes against other high schools throughout the state.

Merrill said now that he has taken over as superintendent permanently, his priority is to maintain the excellent standards the facility has already established through the dedicated work of its 163 staff members.

“The relationships the staff build with the kids is what promotes this great environment and allows kids to change. When you see kids that first come in when they’re newly committed, and then you see the kids that are getting ready to leave, it’s like they’re a totally different person,” Merrill said.

Prior to his time at Long Creek Youth Development Center, Merrill was director of security, then acting superintendent at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. His 20-year career in corrections also includes a stint working at a prerelease center in Hallowell.

Merrill said while he worked in Windham, he heard the nearby juvenile detention facility had a strong reputation, but he was still surprised after he changed positions in August 2011.

“I had been in the department for 20 years, 15 miles up the road, and I had no idea about the great work that goes on here. I always knew it was a good facility, but until you really come here and see, the quality of staff it really is amazing,” he said.

The teenagers who serve sentences in Long Creek Youth Detention Center are separated into five units in the building, four of which house, respectively, detained residents awaiting court dates, pre-release, medium risk and female residents.

The final wing is the “special management unit,” where individual students are housed if they need to be separated from the rest of the group in their original unit for behavioral issues.

That wing is usually completely empty and does not have any permanent staff members who work there, rare for a juvenile detention facility, Merrill said. When he checks the logbook, the last entry is two weeks old, when a resident was brought in for 13 minutes.

According to Merrill, part of what helps the facility operate effectively is Maine’s policy of “indeterminate sentences,” which means when a judge assigns a sentence to a juvenile offender, the facility has the ability to release the child at any time during the term of the sentence.

The motivation from that policy, combined with the work of the facility’s staff and 175 volunteers, helps create a positive environment in South Portland, Merrill said.

“A lot of the kids understand they need to change and are highly motivated to change if it’s going to mean they can be released sooner,” Merrill said.

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