Two years ago, a criminal investigation was launched into the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, NH, after years of allegations of sexual abuse were reported. Formerly known as the Youth Development Center, New Hampshire’s state juvenile detention center received hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits by more than 450 former teens of the facility, some dating back as far as the early 1960s. According to media reports, there are at least 11 suspects, many former staffers, that have been arrested.
As a result, New Hampshire’s Governor Chris Sununu signed off on a $100 million settlement fund designed to compensate victims of physical and sexual abuse at the correctional facility. House Bill 1677 is to go into effect on January 1, 2023. Under the plan, victims of sexual abuse with legitimate claims will be eligible for payments of up to $1.5 million. Victims of physical abuse would receive payouts up to $150,000. The idea is similar to many mass tort settlement funds, which legislators say is to avoid years and years of court proceedings and appeals.
However, this new bill/settlement leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the 500+ victims. Many believe it is the state’s attempt to cover up and mitigate the situation. Legislators agree that the YDC fund is not perfect and will not fully compensate some of those harmed, but those who don’t want to go that route can still await their day in court and avoid the fund process. Filing a claim is voluntary, but claimants that have already filed suit must forgo the judicial process for the fund arbitration system and cannot get back in line for court if they do not like the result. Legislators tout that the process, unlike court, is confidential, but an investigator may interview the claimant.
State Attorney General John Formella released a statement, “This new law creates a claims resolution process that provides a trauma-informed and victim-centered alternative to traditional litigation. 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.”
How the Fund Works
There is a two-year window for filing claims, from January 1, 2023, to December 31, 2024. Only former residents of the YDC may file a claim, excluding family members or relatives, for any distress they experienced due to the abuse. Once a claim is filed, a neutral arbitrator will be chosen by the state Supreme Court to serve as the administrator of the fund and will ultimately decide the amounts per claimant. Attorneys who represent claimants will be limited to not more than a one-third contingent fee on the amount recovered. The $100,000,000 fund is slated to last until June 30, 2032. According to state data, the state of New Hampshire currently spends about $13 million a year to operate the 144-bed detention center, which is currently operating at only about 10%. The Sununu Youth Services Center is slated to close within the next two years and be replaced by a much smaller facility.
Opposition of the Settlement Fund
Democratic lawmakers and advocates for victims argued that the bill is not victim-friendly and that compensation wasn’t enough. They also believe it should include victims who suffered emotional abuse at the facility. A lead attorney for victims who have filed individual lawsuits against the state requested that the damages cap be increased to $4.5 million.
Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the settlement plan “disregards egregious abuse suffered by numerous sexual assault victims at the facility and a “cover-up” of the claims.” Schollett continues, “The bill excludes many victims of sexual abuse and torture from even participating in the YDC/Sununu Center settlement process and limits other victims from accessing the justice they deserve.”
Attorneys of the nearly 500 victims that already filed lawsuits against the Youth Development Center also issued a statement, “The victims know this bill is not victim-friendly and is intended to benefit the state, not them,” he said. “We will continue to fight every day to change the abusive 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.”
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse nationwide. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by clergy, teachers, doctors, or anyone at the Youth Detention Center in New Hampshire, contact our office today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of sexual abuse. Contact us at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. We can help.