Inappropriate physical force at juvenile detention center cited in investigation

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(Host) An advocacy group says its year-long investigation of Vermont’s juvenile detention center uncovered cases of inappropriate physical force against the residents.

The investigation by Vermont Protection and Advocacy also found that children were housed in a facility that was often dirty and lacked air conditioning or fire protection.

State officials have pledged to work with the organization to address the problems.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The investigation focused on the “D-Wing” of the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation center in Essex. The wing houses up to 30 juveniles who are too young to be allowed into adult correctional centers.

Ed Paquin is the director of Vermont Protection and Advocacy, an organization that works on behalf of people with disabilities.

(Paquin) “Probably the most disturbing fact that our report uncovered is that for almost 20 years since D-Wing’s beginnings, important areas of safety and treatment have been ignored by government agencies responsible for maintaining the detention unit.”

(Dillon) The report says investigators uncovered uses of force that were inappropriate or not properly documented. In one recent instance, a juvenile suffered a broken wrist.

Paquin says one of the problems is a lack of documentation to track when the Woodside staff used force or physical restraints.

(Paquin) “We’ve had a discussion with the department about what we think of as painful interventions in terms of restraining. And their answer is, we don’t use pain holds.’ It sounds different to us than what we find there.”

(Dillon) Steve Dale, the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, attended the news conference with Paquin.

Dale said it was inexcusable that the facility was dirty and lacked air-conditioning. He said both problems have been resolved.

And Dale said cases of force and restraints are rare, but that the issue does need attention.

(Dale) “We have relatively few restraints for a facility of this type. There are concerns about documentation and that’s something that we will be addressing. However, best practices in the country have moved on in many other places. And we need to research all the available options for that kind of overall system.”

(Dillon) Both the state and Vermont Protection and Advocacy praised the Woodside staff members as hardworking and committed to the children under their care.

The advocates and the state pledged to work together to improve conditions at the facility.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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