What's next for Woodside?

Published: Mar. 11, 2019 at 2:10 PM EDT
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We have new information following a WCAX News special report on what's next for Vermont's only juvenile detention center.

In December, we took you inside Woodside in Colchester for a rare look at the facility that houses some of the state's most violent youth offenders ages 10-18. We told you the federal government pulled $3 million in funding from the facility, nearly half of its budget. And we found out the building's future is in question. When we asked whether the state needed Woodside, we were told it's a question Vermont is grappling with.

Now, we are asking what the options are. And we found out why some disagree on whether we need a place like Woodside.

Woodside looks like a juvenile jail. And that's something the Vermont Department for Children and Families says it wants to change, focusing more on treatment. Many of the kids who come here have suffered trauma and have behavioral problems or suffer from addiction. But DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz says they can't treat them effectively in the existing building.

"It would not be worthwhile upgrading the present facility," Schatz said.

He says the Colchester space built in the 1980s is too old and they need a new one. Their current proposal is a $25 million, 30-bed facility on the existing property. It would have varying levels of security to help troubled youth transition through treatment.

But whether Woodside should be rebuilt depends on who you ask.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Do we need another facility?

Ken Schatz: My view is we definitely do.

"Our office believes that Woodside should effectively go away, that the majority of the people now being held at Woodside don't belong there to begin with," said Matthew Valerio, Vermont's defender general.

Valerio says his office represents everyone at Woodside.

"We're always involved," he said.

Ninety youth went through the facility last year. Valerio says many of them could be treated elsewhere, citing other staff-secure programs in Vermont.

But Schatz says those programs don't want the Woodside cases which can involve arson, assault and even murder.

"We have had conversations with many of those existing community-based programs and frankly, they've been pretty clear that they also agree that we need a secure facility because there are some youth that they simply can't manage," Schatz said.

But Valerio says the writing is on the wall for Woodside.

"It might be as easy as tearing off a Band-Aid and saying, 'We're done with this' or we're going to tear it off little by little, which will be an unfortunately painful process, but I think it's going to go away," he said.

DCF has been asked to submit a more detailed report on Woodside alternatives to the Legislature by April 15.

If lawmakers approve a new building, the money would have to come from the state, which has already had to assume the operational costs from Woodside because of the loss in federal funding last year.

The feds pulled that money because they don't support state prisons financially and they see Woodside as a jail. DCF is looking at whether moving to a more treatment-focused facility would get the $3 million back. The commissioner said it's too early to say for sure but he's hopeful that if they can create a program that's open to other youth-- not just the ones who are going through the juvenile justice system-- the feds might fund at least part of the program.