Berlin neighbors fight plan to house former inmates - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Berlin neighbors fight plan to house former inmates

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The signs say it all. A group of neighbors are outraged about who's moving into a Berlin home on Chandler Road.

"It's a step out from prison to live in the community and I have huge safety concerns about that in the neighborhood," said Sara McCloud, a neighbor.

The property is owned by Berlin's former police chief, Bill Jennings. He's decided to rent his home to the Montpelier and Greater Barre Community Justice Centers. Participants in their re-entry programs will live there as they transition out of prison back into the community.

"It's a four-bedroom house. We expect we'll have four people live there," said Yvonne Byrd of the Montpelier Community Justice Center.

Byrd heads the program. She says the men have been convicted of various crimes, includes sex offenses, but says they've served their sentences and have been deemed safe by Corrections to live in the community.

"I don't believe for a minute that anyone in that neighborhood will be any less safe than they are now," Byrd said.

The tenants will all wear GPS ankle bracelets. Each will be assigned a probation officer, but no one from Corrections will live in the home.

McCloud says there are simply too many children nearby and it's too far from the services these men will require.

"I think this is a dangerous precedent if they set this up and we move in criminals," McCloud said. "We have other vacancies on the road and it could end up being just like a secondary jail in Riverton."

Byrd said, "I suspect that wherever we might rent a place that there would be people who say why not go do it over there?"

But zoning regulations may legally require the transitional housing to settle elsewhere. Town officials say the plan was never discussed with them and there are several issues to iron out.

"One of the things we need to look at is whether it's a state facility versus just folks living as a family unit," said Jeff Schulz, the Berlin town administrator.

Byrd says she notified neighbors and is moving forward with the four-month lease. She plans to sign with Jennings next week and move the men right away.

Neighbors say their concerns are falling on deaf ears.

"If they had handled it differently, I can't really say the neighbors would have been any less upset, but we probably wouldn't feel so disregarded as we do now," McCloud said.

So they're planning a peaceful protest at Monday's select board meeting.

The town says the select board needs a better understanding of what's being proposed and how the Department of Corrections plans to deal with any safety issues that may come up.

We were unable to contact Bill Jennings directly.

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