Plans to replace Woodside, Middlesex Community Residence moving forward

Published: Feb. 11, 2021 at 5:43 PM EST
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont leaders are moving ahead with plans to demolish the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, the state’s only youth detention center, and replace it with a new adult facility. But there is still disagreement over where and how to treat violent youth offenders until a new facility is ready.

The Woodside facility in Colchester will be replaced with a $16 million, 16-bed step down facility for adults that will replace the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence that has been deemed woefully inadequate. “That facility has long outlasted its lifespan and needs to be replaced,” said Vermont Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell.

She says the new Colchester facility won’t resemble a jail and will be a big upgrade for patients seeking acute care. “It will focus on therapeutic programming that looks at daily living skills, social interactions, managing symptoms, and structured community outings,” Squirrell said.

So what about youth who are accused of violent crimes? The state is in the process of hammering out a $3-million contract with New Hampshire-based Becket Family Services to build a six-bed secure residential facility in Newbury by the end of 2021. “It’s not a replacement for Woodside, it’s a different model than Woodside,” Vermont DCF Commissioner Sean Brown.

Woodside was shut down following court decisions that criticized the facility for being too similar to a jail. The Scott administration also said that new research shows that treating kids in the least restrictive setting possible is the most effective. The Newbury facility will offer programming in a secure therapeutic setting. But while until that is ready, a handful of youth have been housed in hotel rooms.

Steve Howard, head of the Vermont State Employees’ Association says this limbo for violent juveniles is ‘chaotic.’ He points to an incident where a DCF social worker was allegedly sexually assaulted in a St. Albans hotel two weeks ago. And he says even the Newbury facility may not be enough to take care of the most violent youth. “The system that the administration promised, the Legislature promised Vermonters would be in place once Woodside closed never got stood up, it doesn’t exist. And as a result, we have total chaos in the system,” Howard said.

DCF’s Brown acknowledges the pandemic is putting a strain on the system, including moving youth offenders around. He also points out the youth in the St Albans incident was not involved in the criminal justice system and was instead in DCF custody for their own protection. “The closure of Woodside has not had an impact on CHINS {Child in Need of Services} youth, and that’s the majority of kids in our care right now are child protective chins kids now,” Brown said.

Youth that are involved in the justice system, Brown says, are housed in facilities in Washington and Bennington Counties. He adds that the state is also no longer placing any youth in hotel rooms, opting instead for foster home placement.

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