Gov Signs Into Law $100M Fund For Youth Center Abuse Victims

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has signed into law a $100 million fund to settle sexual and physical abuse claims at a state-run youth detention center.

The Legislature had approved creating a fund to compensate those who were abused as children at the Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly the Youth Development Center. The Manchester center has been the target of a criminal investigation since 2019, and 11 former workers were arrested last year. Nearly 450 former residents have sued the state, with allegations involving more than 150 staffers from 1963 to 2018.

Victims of sexual abuse would be eligible for payments of up to $1.5 million each, while payments to victims of physical abuse would be capped at $150,000.

The center is named for former Gov. John H. Sununu, the governor's father.

“This new law creates a claims resolution process that provides a trauma informed and victim centered alternative to traditional litigation,” state Attorney General John Formella said in a news release on Friday. “No victim is required to use this process, but it is my hope that this bill will provide an avenue for much needed healing and compensation for many of these victims.”

The settlement fund legislation was opposed by attorneys for the victims, as well as state and national organizations that advocate for sexual assault survivors.

“The victims know this bill is not victim-friendly and is intended to benefit the state more than them,” the attorneys said in a statement Saturday. “We will continue to fight every day to change the way the state treats its vulnerable children, and for true justice for the many hundreds of kids grievously harmed by sexual, physical, and emotional abuse over decades at the hands of the state.”

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 process for closing it.