Democrats Seek Closure of Youth Center Amid Abuse Claims

By Holly Ramer | March 5, 2021

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Three Democratic lawmakers are asking Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to shut down the state’s youth detention center amid growing allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner and Sens. Cindy Rosenwald and Becky Whitley wrote to Sununu on Thursday, three days after The Associated Press exclusively reported the number of men and women who allege they were abused as children by 150 Youth Development Center staff over six decades had grown to 230.

The Manchester youth facility, now called the Sununu Youth Services Center after former Gov. John H. Sununu, is the target of both a lawsuit and a criminal investigation launched in 2019.

“We were devastated to read the latest accusations of unspeakable physical, sexual and mental abuse perpetrated against children at the Sununu Youth Services Center,” the lawmakers wrote. “This reporting, and the class action lawsuits surrounding the child abuse at Sununu Youth Services Center (SYSC) are truly horrifying and demand an immediate response.”

Sununu did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Democrats’ request. He said earlier this week that his administration remains vigilant in investigating the allegations.

“I have full confidence the attorney general and the Department of Safety will leave no stone unturned in their investigation to ensure justice is served,” he said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed in January 2020 on behalf of three dozen adults who alleged they were abused between 1982 and 2014. The attorney who filed it, Rus Rilee, now represents 230 clients who say they were abused between 1963 and 2018, with allegations that include broken bones, gang rapes, impregnation among others. He argues that negligent hiring, training and supervision policies led to “systemic, governmental child abuse” and created a facility that became a “magnet for predators.”

The facility serves children ordered to a secure institutional setting by the juvenile justice system. The average population last year was just 17 residents overseen by about 90 employees, though it once housed upward of 100 youths and employed a larger staff.

In their letter, the Democrats said the state should stop sinking $13 million per year into an “incredibly expensive, ineffective and dangerous place.”

“Enough is enough,” they wrote. “We urge you to close SYSC and instead invest in a more efficient system with proven outcomes for children and their families.”

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