CONCORD, NH (AP) — A $100 million settlement for sexual and physical abuse claims at a state-run youth detention center was approved by New Hampshire House on Wednesday and is now heading to the Senate of State.
The proposal would create a settlement fund to compensate those who were abused as children at the Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly the Youth Development Center. 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.
“For the first time in decades, the State of New Hampshire has stood up and said, ‘We are responsible and we are going to be responsible to right the wrongs of many, many decades,'” Rep. Jess said. Edwards, R—Auburn.
The Manchester center has been under criminal investigation since 2019, and 11 former workers were arrested in April. Nearly 450 former residents have sued the state, with allegations implicating more than 150 staff members from 1963 to 2018.
The Republican-led House rejected amendments proposed by Democrats that would have raised the cap on individual sexual abuse payments to $4.5 million and allowed claims based on emotional abuse.
“If you broaden the scope too much, your project will fail,” Edwards said in objecting to expanding the settlement to include emotional abuse. “It’s messy and would open up the settlement fund beyond what we’re prepared to do initially.”
Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, a former prosecutor, said multimillion-dollar rewards would likely be awarded by the jury if the victims took their case to court instead.
“If we want plaintiffs to come to the table, we have to be realistic about logical and probable financial risks,” Rogers said.
Rep. Patrick Long, D-Manchester, offered another argument for expanding the scope of the bill, and possibly the amount awarded.
“Although the credit is an extremely important allowance, I remember the taxpayers’ money that went into the commission of these acts,” 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 in June included a mandate to complete it by March 2023.