New Hampshire outlines youth center abuse settlement process
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Raped? $200,000. Infected with a sexually transmitted disease? Add $100,000. Impregnated? Add $200,000. These are among the possible payments for those physically and sexually abused as children at the state-run Youth Development Center, according to preliminary drafts released by the New Hampshire attorney general’s office this week.
After lawyers for the victims provide feedback, the drafts for calculating payments will be updated and submitted to the Legislature’s fiscal committee for approval.
“It may look very different by the time we get a final product,” Jennifer Ramsey, senior assistant attorney general, said Thursday.
The Manchester facility, now called the Sununu Youth Services Center after former Gov. John H. Sununu, has been the target of a broad criminal investigation since 2019. Ten of its former workers and an 11th who worked at a Concord detention facility were arrested last year, and nearly 450 former residents have sued the state based on allegations involving more than 150 staffers from 1963 to 2018.
Hoping to avoid lengthy litigation, lawmakers approved a $100 million settlement fund as part of what officials have called “a trauma-informed, victim-centered alternative.” Victims would have two years to file claims, starting Jan. 1. Individual payments for sexual abuse will be capped at $1.5 million, while payments for physical abuse will be capped at $150,000.
“This is a unique situation, and I’m very proud of our state for taking this action,” Ramsey said. “I think it provides an excellent alternative for people that can and want to use it, and I hope that people will consider it.”
The draft documents released this week include the proposed claims process, the claim form itself and worksheets to calculate individual awards. The worksheets list base awards, ranging from $25,000 to $200,000, for five categories of sexual assault. Those awards would be increased based on the frequency of abuse plus nearly a dozen aggravating factors, including abuse that resulted in pregnancy, was perpetrated by multiple people or continued for more than two years.
The figures are based on national research into similar settlements reached with nearly 5,000 claimants nationwide, Ramsey said. But it’s unclear how many of those with pending lawsuits will file claims.
Rus Rilee, who represents more than 600 people who say they were abused, said Thursday the settlement process “is clearly designed to allow the state to litigate these cases in secret, free from public scrutiny, with damage caps and abuse values that only benefit the state.”
According Rilee, children at the center were gang raped by counselors, beaten while being raped and forced to sexually abuse each other. Staff members also are accused of choking children, beating them unconscious, burning them with cigarettes and breaking their bones.
“We are not going to allow these brave survivors to be retraumatized and revictimized through this process, so we are going to litigate these cases in open court, shining a bright light on decades of systemic governmental child abuse, with the goal of preventing it from happening to another child,” he said.
The state currently spends $13 million a year to operate the 144-bed facility, though the typical population now is about a dozen teens. The two-year budget signed last June included a mandate to close it by March 2023, but its fate remains unclear after lawmakers were unable to agree this year on a closure process.