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Juvenile Detention Center Residents “Obscenely Abused” for Years File Another Lawsuit

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Reports of systemic abuse against children since 2016 has resulted in a second lawsuit against Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center and that begs the question: how could such abuse continue for so long?

Burlington, VTIt’s like a gruesome scene from the Dark Ages: children with disabilities shackled and thrown into isolation without supervision, sometimes for months. Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, aka “Juvie Jail” has finally closed, and a second lawsuit filed in December 2021, claims 22 Vermont Department of Children and Families employees, along with the former commissioner and Woodside staff, regularly abused children between 2016 and 2020.

The Juvenile Lockup closed in 2020, but why did they stay open after years of complaints? According to the latest lawsuit, Woodside staff physically assaulted and stripped children of their clothing thrown into isolation. State investigators in late 2018 substantiated complaints of abuse—they informed Vermont officials that such abuse violated state regulations and it had to stop. But state officials did nothing. It took a federal court in August 2019 to order a halt to such practices, but this recent lawsuit indicates that still nothing changed.

How could Department of Children and Families (DCF) employees and a former commissioner treat children this way?

Former Woodside Director and Prison Guard

Defendant Jay Simons was the Director of Woodside. Simons described to Seven Days Newspaper back in January 2017 that his wards are "the most vulnerable of Vermont's children" — and also the most violent. Many have suffered severe physical, emotional and sexual trauma. According to Seven Days, Simons was a prison guard before landing the job at Woodside, which resembles a prison, in 2011. And he is a father of seven.

Simons writes on his LinkedIn profile: My 28-year career with the State of Vermont includes 17 years of leading rehabilitation and correctional facilities for the Vermont Department of Corrections and the Vermont Department for Children and Families. My work has required expertise in Department of Human Resources requirements, Departmental policies, directives, procedures as well as a thorough understanding of state and federal regulations. I have a strong track record of achieving facility accreditation, balancing budgets and managing employee performance.” Simons says he is now employed full-time as Newport District Director at State of Vermont DCF/FSD.

Simons introduced and implemented the use-of-force system in 2011 when he became Woodside’s director. His “Dangerous Behavior Control Tactics,” had been used in adult prisons, where he had been a use of force instructor for the Corrections Department. Under Simons direction, Woodside staff members “would apply rotational pressure to a juvenile’s joints, including wrists, shoulders and knees, and hyperextended shoulder and rotator cuff muscle groups. The use of Simons’ techniques sometimes caused excruciating pain that could lead to swelling and the possibility of limited range motion,” the lawsuit said. Also during Simons’ watch and included in the 33-page lawsuit, an emergency medical technician responded to Woodside to check a girl for a concussion, and “called DCF’s child abuse hotline and reported the girl was naked, covered in feces, urine and menstrual blood and was nearing hypothermia.”

The First Lawsuit

Following up on years of complaints, Disability Rights Vermont filed a lawsuit in June 2019 against the State of Vermont, DCF, Commissioner Ken Schatz and Jay Simons. It accused employees of using “dangerous and painful restraint” techniques and other disciplinary methods that run afoul of common standards. Court documents described an incident where a 17-year old was held on the ground with a knee in his back, allegedly cutting off his ability to breathe or speak and resulting in “significant pain and swelling of his joints.” In another case, an investigator describes a child being held on the ground with a knee in her back after refusing to go to her room. The child was “screaming and crying ‘please stop twisting arm.” Chief Federal Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford watched a video (he called it a horrific incident) that showed a girl sitting in her isolation cell, naked and covered in feces, as she inserts a wire into her arm while Woodside staff members do nothing, according to the complaint.

Vermont Public Radio obtained regulatory reports that described incidents where staff used restraint techniques that violated a regulation prohibiting “cruel, severe, unusual or unnecessary practices.” However, DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz said that Woodside does “everything it can to avoid the use of physical restraints” and hasn’t had a serious injury due to a restraint in more than 10 years.

The lawsuit was dismissed after the 17-year-old plaintiff was released from Woodside.

The Second Lawsuit – December 2021

The 2021 lawsuit was brought on behalf of seven of the detained children (one died in October) who were allegedly abused. The lawsuit presents claims of cruel and unusual punishment, excessive force, violations of plaintiffs’ rights to due process, violations of their First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional harm, gross negligence, and reckless supervision. The complaint includes the following:
  • Disruptive juveniles were isolated in one wing at Woodside and were not allowed to leave their cell for a shower or to access the windowless day room.
  • In some cases they had their clothes cut off and were left in their underwear or paper gowns.
  • In some cases, detainees were not allowed a mattress, bedding, books, or paper and pencil.
  • Woodside detainees confined in the North Unit would not be allowed to flush their toilets and had to ask staff to flush away their waste.
  • Detainees would sometimes have to sit with unflushed human waste for significant periods of time.
In August 2019 a federal court ordered the institution to stop its abuse and isolation of detained children, but the order fell on deaf ears – court documents indicate the abuse never stopped.


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