Updated 11:20 a.m. Nov. 26
State officials announced they want to close Vermont’s only juvenile detention facility next year.
The Department of Children and Families issued a written statement Monday saying the decision “follows years of steady decline” in the number of children held at Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Colchester.
Last week, there were no kids were held at the facility, and Mike Smith, Vermont’s Secretary at the Agency of Human Services, said it was the first time Woodside had been empty since it opened:
“This Administration – through the Agency of Human Services – working with the legislature and community partners has greatly increased community capacity where youth with mental health concerns can be treated in the least restrictive setting possible. This work has led to a significant decline in delinquent youth in custody.”
There are now two young people at Woodside according to DCF.
The facility can house kids between the ages of 10 and 17 who are in DCF custody or the criminal justice system. Woodside has recently faced scrutiny over claims of practices that allegedly put kids in “dangerous” conditions.
More from VPR: Lawsuit, Regulatory Reports Allege ‘Dangerous’ Restraints Of Children At Woodside [April 10]
In an interview with VPR, DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz would not discuss the lawsuits filed by Disability Rights Vermont or the Defender General’s office.
He said the decision to close Woodside is based solely on the steady decline youth held there. In April, the average daily population was around 10 kids, according to Schatz.
“But then the numbers started going down even faster so it was five or less since August,” he said.
Chief Juvenile Defender Marshall Pahl said Monday’s announcement is a first step, and there are still lots of questions.
“I think there’s a lot of us who have worked under the presumption that Woodside is going to close, in one form or another,” Pahl said. “The real question was would it be replaced would something else, would it replaced with a similar facility, would it be replaced with a similar but smaller facility.”
Schatz said there still might be a need in Vermont for a secure facility to house youth involved in the criminal justice system, but for now the department is considering its options.
In the statement released by DCF Monday, Schatz noted that the state needs to meet the “changing needs” of kids in Vermont:
“Youth have better outcomes through community-based settings where they remain connected to family and supports. DCF will continue to work with our community partners and will continue to grow capacity to meet the complex needs of acute youth in our care.”
In the near term, DCF plans to ask residential providers in Vermont for proposals, Schatz said.
“What we’re looking for is a variety or range of services, and we’ll see what ideas come forward and then we’ll make our decisions,” Schatz told VPR. “With respect to placements with a very high level of supervision, we believe the need is for a relatively small number of beds in that context.”
State officials say the Vermont legislature will have to approve the proposal to close Woodside in 2020.