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WATCH: Newbury voters overwhelmingly oppose a state juvenile treatment facility in town. What’s next?

Since the closure of Woodside in 2020 – the only juvenile detention center in Vermont – the fight over where to build a new facility to house youth in the criminal justice system has gotten heated.

In a largely symbolic vote on Town Meeting Day, Newbury residents overwhelmingly rejected the state’s plan to build a juvenile detention facility in the town. The non-binding ballot item directs the select board to inform the governor and legislature that the majority of residents don’t want the facility in their town.

Newbury residents and town officials say they don't have the services to support the proposed facility.

“I feel like the facilities themselves are needed. I really do. But we’re so rural, and we don’t have the kind of police force needed,” said Newbury resident Heather Fischer on Town Meeting Day. “We’re just so rural, we don’t take care of certain roads."

The proposed six-bed facility would house boys aged 12 to 17. The building, an old bed and breakfast, sits at the end of a dirt road on 278-acres of mostly wooded terrain.

The Newbury facility would fill part of the void left when Woodside, Vermont’s sole juvenile detention facility, closed in 2020 amid a dwindling population and allegations of staffers using excessive force against youth. Without the facility, kids who need treatment in a locked setting have nowhere to go in state, and in some cases end up in adult prison. Though the juvenile justice system tends to focus on rehabilitation over incarceration, state officials say Vermont still needs a locked facility for some kids.

The Newbury Development Review Board denied an application for the juvenile facility in 2021, but an environmental court judge overruled that decision. The town has appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court. That case is still pending.

Connor Cyrus joined Vermont Public as host and senior producer in March 2021. He was a morning reporter at WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island. A graduate of Lyndon State College (now Northern Vermont University), he started his reporting career as an intern at WPTZ, later working for WAGM in Presque Isle, Maine, and WCAX Channel 3, where he covered a broad range of stories from Vermont’s dairy industry to the nurses’ strikes at UVM Medical Center. He’s passionate about journalism’s ability to shed light on complex or difficult topics, as well as giving voice to underrepresented communities.
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