Aroostook County, in Maine’s far north, is the largest county east of the Mississippi, a sparsely populated region of fields and forests with just two small cities and about 50 smaller towns. Police chiefs describe their jurisdictions as sleepy, with little serious crime.

Even so, the county has sent a disproportionate number of adolescents in recent years to the state’s only youth prison.

Between 2017 and 2023, there were 20 commitments to Long Creek Youth Development Center from Aroostook — nearly double the number from York County, which has more than three times as many residents at the other end of the state.

Aroostook was also an outlier for using short prison terms, known as “shock” sentences, to punish young offenders, handing them down at some of the highest rates statewide before the practice began to wane.

York County, which includes wealthy coastal communities and former mill towns that help make up Maine’s largest metropolitan area, rarely imposed such sentences.

For more than a decade, Maine has emphasized rehabilitation in its approach to juvenile justice, sending fewer teenagers to prison. The change is in keeping with a national movement to consign fewer youth to the criminal justice system, especially correctional settings, which a growing body of research shows can often do more harm than good at preventing delinquency.


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