Vermont’s sole juvenile detention center is empty for the first time in years — a significant milestone for the facility, which been under scrutiny for practices that allegedly put kids in “dangerous conditions.”
Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, which is run by the Department for Children and Families, houses kids between the ages of 10 and 17. The kids housed at Woodside are in DCF custody or the criminal justice system. But as of Wednesday, no one was being held at the Colchester facility.
“It’s a really big deal,” said Chief Juvenile Defender Marshall Pahl.
Pahl noted a variety of factors led to the decrease in Woodside’s population. “It’s been a combination of policy changes and law changes and then just individual litigation and advocacy on behalf of kids who are there to try get them into more appropriate placements,” Pahl said.
DCF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this year, the Defender General’s office sued Woodside, accusing staffers of using “dangerous and painful restraints.” That lawsuit was dismissed after the plaintiff, an unnamed 17-year old, was discharged from Woodside.
Then, Disability Rights Vermont filed a separate federal lawsuit that made similar allegations. In that case, a federal judge ordered Woodside to reduce its use of solitary confinement and to ease disciplinary procedures.
Lawmakers have been considering what to do with Woodside as the population of kids held there has shrunk in recent years.
In January, DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz told the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions that he supports building a new 30-bed facility to replace Woodside.
For now, Woodside is still standing — the facility is still operational and kids could be placed there again, Pahl said.
“If they put a kid back in there, the likelihood is that we will be back to the fight,” Pahl said. “But it’s worth celebrating that we got down to zero.”