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State Settles In Lawsuit Over Restraint Practices At Woodside

The outside of the Woodside facility.
Liam Elder-Connors
/
VPR File
The state settled a lawsuit alleging youth were subject to dangerous conditions at Woodside. The settlement requires DCF to review all emergency interventions for the next 18 months.

The state has reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit alleging youth were subjected to dangerous conditions at Vermont’s only juvenile detention facility.

The settlement requires the Department for Children and Families to review interventions, including restraints and isolation, for the next 18 months.

Disability Rights Vermont sued the DCF last June, alleging staff used dangerous restraints on kids at Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center.

After the case was filed, a federal judge ordered the facility to reduce the use of solitary confinement and ease disciplinary procedures. The judge also told DCF and Disability Rights Vermont to work together to develop new protocols.

The two organizations collaborated to develop new practices for emergency interventions, and staff were trained in new de-escalation techniques, according to a joint press release.

"We are very proud of the work that has been done and of our dedicated staff who have embraced these changes." — Ken Schatz, DCF Commissioner

“We are very proud of the work that has been done and of our dedicated staff who have embraced these changes,” said DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz in a written statement.

DRVT Executive Director Ed Paquin echoed those sentiments, saying his organization was pleased with the settlement.

“We are more confident now that youth in Woodside programming will receive the appropriate mental health services and care going forward, especially with the level of review that will be taking place over the next 18 months,” Paquin wrote.

The settlement also requires that the any director of the program be a PhD level psychologist or medical doctor with experience treating youth in secure mental health facilities.

The settlement comes after a year of scrutiny of practices at Woodside as well as a dwindling population of youth houses at the facility.

Regulatory reports obtained by VPR last year and a lawsuit filed by the Defender General’s office described incidents where staff used restraint techniques that violated a regulation prohibiting “cruel, severe, unusual or unnecessary practices.”

"We are more confident now that youth in Woodside programming will receive the appropriate mental health services and care going forward." — Ed Paquin, Disability Rights Vermont Executive Director

The Scott administration then announced in November it wanted to close the facility, citing “years of steady decline” in the number of children held there — including a brief period where the facility was empty.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, however, the Department of Mental Health has set up Woodside as a temporary site to house COVID-positive adult psychiatric patients, and the youth have been moved to a locked treatment facility in Middlesex.

All the new policies agreed to in the settlement agreement are still in effect at the new site in Middlesex, according to DCF and DRV.

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