COURT WATCH: Hearing Illustrates Lack of Resources in Community Center in Burlington

Gavel with open book and scales on table

Gavel with open book and scales on table

By Gabriela Rose

BURLINGTON, VT- Court proceedings in Chittenden County Superior Court earlier this week revealed a larger issue facing the Burlington area—a general lack of resources available to the community by the Howard Center, as reported by the VTDigger, which provides defendants with treatment and support for mental health and substance use.

The case here displayed some of those problems. A status conference regarding a charge of disorderly conduct resulted in Deputy District Attorney Emily Pijanowski asking Judge Kevin Griffin to issue the accused probation, explaining the accused was supposed to have taken part in an anger management course at the Howard Center by now.

Judge Griffin responded that issuing probation for this case was “overwhelming” and “didn’t make sense.”

Deputy Public Defender Sarah Varty explained the accused had tried to enroll in an anger management class, but there was no availability. The Howard Center suggested the accused try counseling, but finding a counselor took months and he was only able to complete three sessions before the court proceedings this week.

DDA Pijanowski countered, stating the previous deal had been eroded, and the accused had not completed six hours of an anger management course as was agreed. Although the state acknowledged probation in this case felt “overwhelming,” it defended the proposition on the grounds that the agreement had not been met.

Judge Griffin suggested DDA Pijanowski and DPD Varty discuss and the case be revisited later in the day.

This case reflects a general decline in resources and services provided by the Howard Center to citizens of Burlington.

According to an article  published in early February, the nonprofit suspended two programs intended to treat substance abuse issues, after reducing the number of beds available in two of its programs last spring and announcing the suspension of four other programs last summer.

In an interview, the Howard Center’s Chief Client Services Officer Beth Holden told the VTDigger the decision to suspend the programs was based on “a shortage of staffing and other challenges” and that the “cumulative effects of years of underfunding” have led to the series of cuts to the program.

The VTDigger additionally spoke to the vice president of the Howard Center’s union, Nolan Rampy, and he noted the union was “incredibly frustrated” with the Howard Center.

Rampy stated, “We have been aware for a long time of the staffing and retention issues in those programs,” adding, “We have repeatedly offered to reopen contract negotiations with the agency in order to help address the staffing issues, and they have declined over and over again.”.

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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