Should Vermont build a new juvenile detention center?

Published: Apr. 18, 2019 at 4:19 PM EDT
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Plans to build a new juvenile detention center in Vermont are moving forward. Our Cat Viglienzoni learned what the state is planning.

What to do about Woodside has been a problem for Vermont's lawmakers for years.

"No one wants to be in favor of putting kids in a locked facility but unfortunately we have situations where we need that," Vt. Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille said.

Last year, the state spent $6.2 million on care at Woodside. The Colchester facility-- which acts as a combination of detention center, treatment center and school-- houses up to 30 youths, some of whom are deemed too much of a safety risk for other residential treatment facilities. But it lost federal funding because it was considered too much like a jail.

"We are definitely under financial pressure and so that has kind of called the question of what do we need as a facility," Gobeille said.

Now, a report out from Gobeille proposes several options, including leaving the facility as is, repurposing it or closing it. But the one the agency recommends is building an entirely new $25 million facility. It would have multiple levels of security and treatment to meet the needs of a range of troubled youth. It would also allow some youth housed out of state to be brought back here.

"Can we build a better facility that would allow some of that treatment back in Vermont?" Gobeille said.

But critics say Woodside is not the model of the future and a new 30-bed facility would be overkill.

"This is the kind of thing where we need a place for five or six people to be at any given time for short stays," Vt. Defender General Matthew Valerio said.

Valerio says most of the youth should be in mental health facilities, not correctional ones.

"The more something looks and presents like a juvenile jail, the more it will be used as one," Valerio said. "You can call it whatever you want."

He's in favor of a smaller facility-- no more than 10 beds-- for the most challenging young people in the justice system.

"It may be repurposing something that already exists. And that's the side of it that we have not really been asked about," Valerio said.

Gobeille says it's up to lawmakers to decide what's next.

"Our bottom line is we are only recommending that we don't close Woodside," he said.

Gobeille says the next steps are to continue conversations with lawmakers and the nonprofits that help with care for troubled youth.