Is old Vt. prison new plan for troubled kids?

Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 5:16 PM EST
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WINDSOR, Vt. (WCAX) - State officials say the closure of Vermont’s only youth detention center is causing stress on the corrections system. A new bill to alleviate that stress would temporarily house the state’s most at-risk children at the shuttered Southeast State Correctional facility in Windsor.

The former prison has sat idle for several years and over that time state officials have floated various proposals for its use. But the latest development is not sitting well with town officials.

“That’s disappointing on a number of levels,” said Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh. He says a bill introduced in the Vermont Senate to use part of the sprawling property as a temporary youth detention center is a non-starter and that surveys show two-thirds of town residents don’t like the idea. “We do not want corrections or social services. We have demonstrated that, we’ve met with state agencies, and now the first thing out of the box is a corrections use,” Marsh said.

State officials have already proposed a six-bed juvenile facility in Newbury to replace the closed Woodside facility in Essex, but that plan was unanimously shot down by Newbury town officials. The state is appealing that vote. In the meantime, the old Windsor prison is another short-term option to address a growing problem, the lack of beds for troubled kids.

“There is opportunity in this property in that it is a hundred acres. We could have a public-private partnership,” said Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, who chairs the House Corrections and Institutions Committee. She is quick to note that a temporary detention center would not fall under the purview of DOC. “It is not under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections. It is under the jurisdiction of the Department for Children and Family Services.”

But Emmons also says that nothing is set in stone. One thing is certain, the vacant prison costs the state big bucks every year it remains unused. “And that is a concern. We are paying $250,000 a year,” Emmons said.

Town officials say the land would be better used for much-needed housing in the area. They say they are happy that their concerns are being heard at the state level. “They have engaged us quite a bit to listen to what the interests of the community are,” Marsh said.

State officials say the immediate next step for this facility is to determine what buildings can stay and which need to be torn down. They say any future development can’t move forward without knowing that first.

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