Lawmakers Recommend Overhaul of State Juvenile Justice

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(Host) Leaders in the Vermont Senate want to reform the way the state deals with young people in trouble with the law.

On Tuesday, the senators proposed legislation to set up a comprehensive juvenile justice system. The senators came up with the bill after they held a series of hearings around the state.

Windham Democrat Peter Shumlin says one priority is to allow parents to keep custody of their kids and still get help from the department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, or SRS.

(Shumlin) “You shouldn’t have to lose custody of your troubled child in order to get SRS intervention for that child when they’re in trouble. We heard heart-wrenching stories from families who love their child but in order to get help had to literally give up custody of their child while they’re in tremendous crisis with that child. How logical is that?”

(Host) Shumlin was joined by a bipartisan group of legislators to announce the bill. They said several cases over the last year provided a wake-up call that Vermont needs to do a better job with young people in trouble. They mentioned the case of a Rutland boy who died of a heroin overdose while he was under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.

Shumlin says the system needs to focus on the needs of young people, both inside and outside of prison:

(Shumlin) “One of the really striking things that I found most disturbing about all of our hearings held across the state was when we had conversations with kids who are in the system. And one of the things they said time and time again when we asked them, What happens when you get out? When you get released? They’d said the biggest problem they were having was that when they were released they had no where to go. They had no consistent support and their friends and acquaintances were doing heroin and crack cocaine at levels that they never anticipated, that frightened them.”

(Host) The Senate legislation says the state should set aside space at the Springfield correctional facility and at the Caledonia community work camp exclusively for people younger than 21 years. The legislation also establishes a new juvenile justice coordinator to monitor all state and local programs that deal with young people in trouble.

Senators said the new juvenile justice system would cost about $575,000 to set up.

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