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Federal Lawsuit Alleges 'Dangerous Conditions' For Children Held At Woodside

The outside of the Woodside facility.
Liam Elder-Connors
/
VPR File
Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Colchester is the state's only locked facility for kids. A new lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Vermont says policies have led to dangerous conditions for the children held at the facility.

A new federal lawsuit alleges children at Vermont's juvenile detention center are being held in conditions that are "physically and emotionally harmful."

Court documents say children at Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center are held in dangerous restraints and long-term isolation and don't receive adequate mental health treatment.

The lawsuit, filed by Disability Rights Vermont, asks for Woodside to stop these practices and develop new policies.

A.J. Ruben, supervising attorney at DRV, said the Department for Children and Families, which runs Woodside, has been aware of the concerns but failed to address them.

“So we're hopeful getting a federal court involved will spur us to a place where we won't have these concerns about the kids in DCF custody,” he said.

In response to a request for comment, DCF issued VPR a written statement: 

"We are in the process of reviewing this lawsuit. Woodside has been working in collaboration with interested stakeholders, including Disability Rights Vermont, on an ongoing basis to review its practices and improve them when appropriate. This includes consulting with an expert to assess de-escalation and restraint practices. We expect the expert’s report and recommendations in the next few weeks.”

The DRV lawsuit isn’t the first time the Woodside’s restraint techniques and use-of-force policies have raised concerns. Regulatory reports obtained by VPR earlier this year also described incidents where staff used restraint techniques that violated a regulation prohibiting “cruel, severe, unusual or unnecessary practices.”

The Defender General’s office sued Woodside in April, accusing staffers of using “dangerous and painful restraint” techniques. That lawsuit, filed on behalf of an unnamed 17-year old, was dismissed after the juvenile was discharged from Woodside.

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