Vt. Supreme Court hears Newbury juvenile facility appeal

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 4:36 PM EDT|Updated: May. 23, 2023 at 6:23 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The Upper Valley town of Newbury on Tuesday took its battle against a proposed state juvenile detention facility to the Vermont Supreme Court.

The state proposal to create a six-bed secure facility for adolescent boys has faced stiff local opposition from the start, with residents saying the area is ill-equipped from a law enforcement perspective to support the facility. A local development review board denied the state proposal but the state Environmental Court sided with the state, citing a state law protecting group homes from restrictive zoning.

During Tuesday’s appeal, legal teams sparred over what the facility is and isn’t. “This facility is not designed or intended to facilitate the integration of people with disabilities into the community, and whether to separate them from the community and hold them separately,” said James Barlow, a lawyer for the town of Newbury.

Nick Low, an attorney representing concerned neighbors, says that with its bulletproof glass, infrared security cameras, and heavy locked doors, the facility should not be classified as a group home. “This is no more a residence than a prison is. A prison has beds and has a common area. It doesn’t make it a residence,” he said.

But the state sees it differently. They object to characterizing the facility as a detention center for troubled youth. This project has been designed to create as normal and therapeutic and as nurturing a residential setting as possible to give the treatment to these youth with the understanding that they’re that -- they’re youth,” said Assistant Attorney General Ryan Kane.

That leaves the court to interpret what is a group home? Chief Justice Paul Reiber acknowledged the state’s intent is murky. “Sort of an intentional omission on the part of the Legislature -- it really confuses the issue here for them to have not defined it here and I’m puzzled as to why they would not do so,” he said.

The state has shifted in recent years how they treat young offenders, opting for treatment instead of incarceration. That included closing the former Woodside Juvenile Detention Facility in 2020 after critics found it too prison-like. Since then, the Department for Children and Families has wrestled with how to house and treat troubled youth.

Following Tuesday’s oral arguments, legal teams reflected on the case’s potential precedent. “A broad definition of this statute would have positive impacts on the availability of housing for disabled Vermonters on state-funded projects and for other projects as well,” Kane said.

The oral arguments came on the heels of Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia County, sending a letter to state officials urging them to reconsider the proposed facility in her district.

A timeline for when the high court will rule on the case is unknown.

Related Stories:

State leaders propose temporary facility to house Vermont’s young offenders

Scott asks lawmakers to delay ‘Raise the Age’ juvenile offender law

DCF report seeks to address crisis over juvenile offender housing

Newbury to appeal ruling allowing youth offender facility

Judge greenlights juvenile offender facility in Newbury

Where will they go? Vermont scrambles to find housing for violent juvenile offenders

Vt. lawmakers address juvenile detention capacity crisis

Vt. continues efforts to build juvenile offender facility

Senate drops plan for juvenile facility at former Windsor prison

Is old Vt. prison new plan for troubled kids?

VSEA calls on state to open secure facility for teens to replace Woodside

State leaders respond to Woodside lawsuit alleging abuse

Vermont appeals Newbury’s denial of youth detention center

Former detainees sue Vt. DCF, allege mistreatment at Woodside

New Vt. juvenile treatment facility to be completed by spring

States grapple with closing youth detention centers

Plans to replace Woodside, Middlesex Community Residence moving forward

Vt. lawmakers presented with Woodside replacement options

Woodside set to close October 1

Woodside facility unlikely to be used moving forward

Disability Rights Vermont accuses DCF of violating settlement

Does Vermont need a new facility for youthful offenders?