NH outlines settlement process for abused children at youth center – NBC Boston
Violated? $200,000. Infected with a sexually transmitted disease? Add $100,000. Imbued? Add $200,000. These are among possible payments for those physically and sexually abused as children at the state-run Youth Development Center, according to drafts released by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office this week.
Once the victims’ lawyers provide their comments, the draft payment calculations will be updated and submitted to the Legislative Tax Committee for approval.
“It may look very different by the time we have a final product,” senior assistant attorney general Jennifer Ramsey said Thursday.
The Manchester facility, now called Sununu Youth Services Center after former Governor John H. Sununu, has been the target of an extensive criminal investigation since 2019. Ten of its former workers and an 11th who worked at a detention center in Concord have been arrested in the past year, and nearly 450 former residents have sued the state based on allegations involving more than 150 staff members from 1963 to 2018.
Hoping to avoid lengthy litigation, lawmakers approved a $100 million settlement fund as part of what officials called “a trauma-informed, victim-centered alternative.” Victims would have two years to file a complaint from January 1. Individual sexual abuse payments will be capped at $1.5 million, while physical abuse payments will be capped at $150,000.
Six men have been arrested in connection with an investigation into child sexual abuse at a state-run youth detention center in New Hampshire.
“It’s a unique situation, and I’m very proud of our state for taking this step,” Ramsey said. “I think it offers a great alternative for people who can and want to use it, and I hope people will consider it.”
Draft documents released this week include the proposed claims process, the claim form itself, and worksheets for calculating individual compensation. The spreadsheets list base awards, ranging from $25,000 to $200,000, for five categories of sexual assault. These awards would be increased based on the frequency of abuse and 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 searches of 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 have been abused, said Thursday that the settlement process “is clearly designed to allow the state to litigate these cases in secret, away from public scrutiny, with damage caps and abuse values that only benefit the state.”
According to Rilee, children at the center were gang-raped by counsellors, beaten while raped, and forced to sexually abuse each other. Staff members are also 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 re-traumatized and re-victimized by this process, so we will argue these cases in open court, bringing to light decades of systemic government child abuse, in an effort to to prevent 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 is now about a dozen teenagers. The biennial budget signed last June included a mandate to wrap it up by March 2023, but its fate remains uncertain after lawmakers were unable to agree on a closure process this year.