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DCF abandons plan to build controversial juvenile facility in Newbury

A brown house sits on top of a hill.
Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont Public
The site of the proposed secure juvenile facility in Newbury. Town officials and residents opposed the plan, in part because of its remote location and the lack of emergency services in the surrounding area.

The Department for Children and Families has abandoned its plan to build a controversial locked juvenile facility in a small town in Orange County.

The project would have housed up to six boys, aged 12 to 17, at the site of a former bed-and-breakfast in Newbury.

The building was located off a dirt road on about 278 acres of mostly wooded terrain. Town officials and residents strongly opposed the facility, and the project was caught in a lengthy legal battle.

DCF Commissioner Chris Winters, in an interview on Monday, said the department dropped the project for a variety of reasons, including the town’s opposition.

But a big factor, Winter said, was that DCF had developed other plans to build a secure facility for youth in the criminal justice system.

“Because of the delay, we had to pursue other options for our high end system of care on many fronts,” Winters said.

More from Vermont Public: After local pushback, proposed juvenile treatment facility in Newbury in limbo pending Vt. Supreme Court appeal

DCF recently opened a temporary locked juvenile facility in Middlesex, and the department is planning to announce its plan for a permanent facility in early April, Winters said. DCF has been considering sites in South Burlington and Vergennes.

“Because of the delay, we had to pursue other options for our high end system of care on many fronts.”
DCF Commissioner Chris Winters

Newbury town officials, like select board chair Joe Parsons, say they’re pleased with DCF’s decision to reverse course.

“Everyone in town is happy,” Parsons said in an interview on Monday. “It’s been a long road to here.”

Town officials and residents argued that the remote location of the facility and lack of emergency services in the surrounding area wouldn't be good for the kids in the program.

“Everyone in town is happy. It’s been a long road to here.”
Joe Parsons, Newbury select board chair

The Newbury Development Review Board rejected the project, ruling that the facility didn’t meet the definition of a residential care or group home, and that the state couldn’t guarantee that all the youth at the facility would have a disability or behavioral disorder.

But the state environmental court overturned the DRB’s ruling and, in late December, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed that decision.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont Supreme Court rules in favor of locked youth treatment facility in Newbury

DCF is still considering using the Newbury site as a facility for children with developmental service needs who aren't involved in the criminal justice system and don’t need to be housed in a locked building.

“If we decide that that's a viable option … we’d start the process with the town again,” Winters said. “Just try to see if we can start over with respect to being a trusted partner.”

Vermont hasn’t had a permanent facility to hold youth involved in the criminal justice system since 2020, when the state shuttered Woodside amid reports that staff used excessive force and unlawful restraints against kids at the facility.

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Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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