Town of Newbury and citizens group file for new review of Vermont juvenile facility case

By ALAN J. KEAYS

VTtDigger

Published: 01-09-2024 6:02 PM

The town of Newbury and a citizens group are asking the Vermont Supreme Court for another chance to argue their case opposing the state’s plan to open a secure facility to house youths involved in the criminal justice system in the community.

The Vermont Supreme Court issued a ruling late last month in favor of the state, clearing the way for the state Department for Children and Families to move ahead with its proposal to locate a facility for up to six youth in a former bed-and-breakfast in Newbury.

“Giving the Court the benefit of the doubt, there can be no explanation for the decision other than that the Court has misapprehended both the facts and the law,” James Barlow, an attorney representing the town of Newbury, wrote in a recent filing seeking to reargue the case before the state’s highest court.

Barlow, reached Monday, declined comment on the town’s filing. 

Chris Winters, state DCF commissioner, could not be reached Monday for comment.

Motions for reargument are rarely granted. For example, in fiscal year 2020, the most recent year with available statistics, of the 35 motions for reargument, only five were granted, including those that were partially granted. 

The state’s plan had called for the proposed Newbury facility to replace Vermont’s only juvenile detention center, Woodside, located in Essex, which was shuttered in 2020 following accusations of excessive force and improper use of restraints and seclusion.

The proposal has faced strong opposition from the residents of Newbury, as the project has worked its way through zoning and legal hearings.

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The property is owned by the Vermont Permanency Initiative, which would contract with DCF to run the Newbury facility.

Arguments in front of the Vermont Supreme Court in May centered on whether the proposed Newbury facility would be a “juvenile detention center” for children in the juvenile justice system, as the town contended. 

The state Department for Children and Families had argued that the facility should instead be considered as a “group home” for children with disabilities, which would limit the town zoning board’s ability to prevent its development under current law.

The Vermont Supreme Court, in its 4-1 ruling, sided with the state. 

In its filing for reargument before the Vermont Supreme Court, the town stated that the “Court’s decision paves the way for DCF to construct similar high-security facilities throughout Vermont.”

The filing added, “DCF will enjoy the benefit of placing the facility in ‘normal residential surrounding’ with little or no zoning review.”

In its filing, the local group opposing the state’s proposal — CONCERNED4NEWBURY — stated that the group home exception to zoning regulations is to allow “developmentally disabled and physically handicapped persons” an opportunity to experience and enjoy “the benefits of normal residential surroundings.”

However, that filing stated, “The remotely-located, high-security, locked-down facility proposed here provides no such benefit.”

The Newbury Development Review Board in 2021 denied a permit for the facility.

A state Environmental Court judge later reversed that decision, leading to the town’s appeal and the case being heard before the Vermont Supreme Court.