Vermont’s only juvenile detention facility no longer has children confined behind its walls, after being targeted by lawsuits in recent years for its restraint practices.
“It’s the first time the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex has been empty since it opened more than 30 years ago,” said the Nov. 21 VT Digger article.
The center has a design capacity of 30 beds for youths ages 10 to 18. The institution is overseen by the Vermont Department for Children and Families.
With the facility’s population at zero, some Vermont politicians are questioning whether the compound should be used to incarcerate youths.
“The question is to use the building for juveniles or not,” said Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, chair of the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions. “And then if you don’t use it for juveniles, what are you going to use it for?”
Lawmakers discussed in session a proposal that would have replaced the facility at a cost of $23.3 million, but no action has been taken yet.
Emmons said that before the Legislature invests money into construction, the state needs to figure out its policy.
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would rely on the administration to offer recommendations on Woodside’s future.
Sears said the general fund budget for Woodside totals about $5.5 million. He expects the next legislative session to include discussion on the facility’s future.
“I still think you have a certain number of kids who are going to need to be dealt with, whether that number is three, four or 10,” Sears stated. “There’s still a need for detention for difficult to place kids.”
In the federal suit, Judge Geoffrey Crawford wrote in his ruling about a video he reviewed that shows the restraint of a teenage girl at Woodside who is naked and streaked with feces. The judge used the words “horrific” and “entirely inappropriate” to describe what he saw. The judge further stated in his order that the video “demonstrates in the space of a few minutes Woodside’s limited ability to care for a child who is experiencing symptoms of serious mental illness.”
The separate lawsuit in state court was dismissed by Judge Mary Miles Teachout as “moot” after the teen alleging the dangerous use of restraints at the facility was released.
And although there’s uncertainty regarding the facility’s practices and future, there are some who find Woodside’s lack of residency to be a step in the right direction.
“This is quite extraordinary,” said Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio. “This really is evidence of a shift in both demographics as well as attitudes as to how we deal with kids to get the best results for them.”