Does Vermont need a new facility for youthful offenders?

Published: Jan. 29, 2020 at 5:01 PM EST
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Lawmakers and state officials are grappling with where to house Vermont's most violent young offenders if the state's only juvenile corrections facility closes.

The Scott administration wants to close Woodside, the state's only juvenile facility, by next summer and save taxpayers over $3 million. But administration officials admit there will always be a need for a facility to house the most violent youth.

"We will need a small number of beds, three to five beds, to provide a significant level of supervision for those small number of youth that need it," said Vt. DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz.

But what that facility should look like is a hot button issue. For the small number of youth who are tried as adults, the Department for Children and Families sends them to an adult prison, the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland.

"You think about what message that sends to a young child being driven up to a correctional facility. It says the people of Vermont have given up on you," said Steve Howard, executive director of the Vt. State Employees Association.

By law, young offenders have to be separated from adults in jail. They are not allowed to see or hear adult inmates. If the state sends more youth to Marble Valley, some question how that will change logistics inside the prison, and add expenses.

VSEA officials say the state should instead invest in a new facility. They're pitching a $4 million, 16-bed, half-secure and half-therapeutic facility. They say another option is a $2 million, 10-bed secure facility where youth can calm down after a violent incident.

"Unlike when we had the mental health, built the state hospital, the people who spent time with kids are the ones who get listened to and win the fight," Howard said.

But DCF's Schatz says there isn't a need to build a new facility. Instead, the state plans to subcontract the work to a company or organization to house the state's most violent offenders in a decentralized way.

"We have an existing array of community providers to put forward a proposal to say, if we get a few more resources, we can meet that need within our existing programs," Schatz said.

Administration officials have not responded to requests from WCAX about the current population of youth offenders at Woodside and Marble Valley.