Vermont Supreme Court hears case that could decide fate of proposed juvenile facility in Newbury
The Vermont Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case that will decide the fate of a facility in Newport intended to house youth involved in the criminal justice system.
The controversial project would house up to six boys, aged 12 to 17, at the site of a former bed and breakfast in Newbury. The building sits off a dirt road on about 278 acres of mostly-wooded terrain.
The state has been looking to build several smaller youth facilities to fill the void left when Woodside, the state’s only juvenile detention center, closed in 2020. Without Woodside, the state hasn’t had any in-state facility for kids who need treatment in a locked setting, and some youth arrested for violent crimes have ended up in adult prison.
Newbury residents have argued that the town isn’t the right place for the facility, and the development review board denied the project’s application. But that decision was overturned after the state won an appeal to the environmental court.
The town then appealed the environmental court’s ruling, and brought the case before Vermont’s highest court.
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The core of the town’s argument is that the proposed juvenile facility doesn’t meet the town's definition of a residential care or group home.
James Barlow, Newbury town attorney, told the court that the project is built to be a prison.
“The record shows that the proposed facility would have permanently closed, bulletproof windows and remotely locked doors, would be entirely surrounded by security fencing and 24/7 infrared cameras to detect escape,” Barlow said during Tuesday’s hearing.
The state has said it intends to use the facility to help children with disabilities and behavioral issues — including those who might be accused of committing a crime.
“The youth served by this facility will have severe mental and emotional disorders, often as a result of almost unimaginably difficult lives for their young age,” said Ryan Kane, the attorney representing the state. "And the purpose of this facility is not to detain these youth as punishment ... and to characterize it as such, I think does a great disservice.”
The town of Newbury also argued that state's wouldn't be able to guarantee that all the youth at the facility actually had a disability or behavioral disorder.
Kane said the state will conduct assessments of youth at the facility to ensure all the youth meet the criteria of the program.
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The Vermont Supreme Court usually takes several months to issue a decision.
In the meantime, the state is looking to build a temporary juvenile detention facility in St. Albans, next to Northern State Correctional Facility. That project would have eight beds and house both boys and girls.
The proposal has also met residence in St. Albans. At a recent select board meeting, according to meeting minutes, some select board members and town residents questioned whether it was fair for the state to place both a prison and a juvenile detention center in the town.
Other residents also raised concerns about the security of a temporary facility, the meeting minutes say.
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