By Guy Page
With the latest proposal for a secure facility for youthful offenders now at a standoff and headed to the Supreme Court, the State of Vermont is still lacking but looking for a safe place to house young offenders.
The State of Vermont has been pushing hard for a secure facility in Newbury. Local officials are upset that the state officials characterizes it as a ‘group home’ and are hesitant to use the word ‘detention.’
Both the Newbury plan and its backers underplaying the risk of housing violent offenders has drawn criticism in the Senate.
On May 5, Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) wrote a letter to Gov. Phil Scott asking him to drop the plans.
At an April 11 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, chair Sen. Richard Sears – himself a social worker with youth – took exception to state officials’ well-intentioned resistance to thinking of youth in terms of detention and incarceration.
“When they start hitting staff with frying plans, they’re violent, and that’s the problem,” Sears said. “Right now we don’t have anything at the top of the system to hold those violent youths.”
Neither Newbury nor the State are giving in. An initial Vermont Supreme Court hearing has been scheduled for May 23.
The State is working on a couple of options to ‘stabilize’ young lawbreakers who ‘need a time out,’ Agency of Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson said at Gov. Phil Scott’s press conference today. But ever since the Woodside facility closed almost three years ago under pressure from the federal government, Vermont has had no permanent, secure place to put dangerous, lawbreaking youth – a situation highlighted by the recent case of Tashawn Ware, 18 of Brooklyn, NY. When it appeared that a Vermont criminal judge might free the alleged aggravated assailant, robber and drug user for lack of a place to put him, the federal authorities arrested him.
VDC asked Gov. Phil Scott this question at his press conference today:
“Governor, Mike Donoghue reported today that Judge Alison Arms was considering releasing an 18 year old accused of armed robbery and drug possession, saying it’s not her fault that the state doesn’t have a secure youth facility. The Town of Newbury now has the support of Sen. Jane Kitchel in its opposition to the state plan to open a facility there. When and where can Vermonters expect a secure facility for youthful offenders?”
Scott said his administration is working on two initiatives: one in Southwestern Medical Center in Bennington, and the other at the Windham County Sheriff’s Office. He then handed off the question to Samuelson. She clarified that these two options are for ‘stabilization’ only – i.e. somewhere for the youth to hopefully cool off while the state considers its residential options.
But getting local approval for longterm residential secure housing? As the strenuous pushback to a state plan in Newbury shows, that’s a tough sell to local residents.
“We continue to try to work with towns across the state,” Samuelson said. The state has asked municipalities to step forward. “No one has,” she said, the frustration evident in her voice. “There always is some reason why it’s not what they want in their yard.”