- Associated Press - Thursday, March 4, 2021

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Three Democratic lawmakers are asking Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to shut down the state’s youth detention center amid growing allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner and Sens. Cindy Rosenwald and Becky Whitley wrote to Sununu on Thursday, three days after The Associated Press exclusively reported the number of men and women who allege they were abused as children by 150 Youth Development Center staff over six decades had grown to 230.

The Manchester youth facility, now called the Sununu Youth Services Center after former Gov. John H. Sununu, is the target of both a lawsuit and a criminal investigation launched in 2019.

“We were devastated to read the latest accusations of unspeakable physical, sexual and mental abuse perpetrated against children at the Sununu Youth Services Center,” the lawmakers wrote. “This reporting, and the class action lawsuits surrounding the child abuse at Sununu Youth Services Center (SYSC) are truly horrifying and demand an immediate response.”

They said the state should stop sinking $13 million per year into an “incredibly expensive, ineffective and dangerous place.”

“Enough is enough,” they wrote. “We urge you to close SYSC and instead invest in a more efficient system with proven outcomes for children and their families.”

Sununu said his administration has worked hard to increase community-based services for youth as an alternative to incarceration.

“I love the idea of more community programs, and we’ve been getting closer and closer to that all the time, but you do have youth in that detention center that are a clear danger to themselves and others,” he said. “And if you don’t have the appropriate facility in the community to protect them and the public, that’s going to create a much worse and much more dangerous situation.”

The lawsuit was filed in January 2020 on behalf of three dozen adults who alleged they were abused between 1982 and 2014. The attorney who filed it, Rus Rilee, now represents 230 clients who say they were abused between 1963 and 2018, with allegations that include broken bones, gang rapes, impregnation among others. He argues that negligent hiring, training and supervision policies led to “systemic, governmental child abuse” and created a facility that became a “magnet for predators.”

Sununu said Thursday that the number of allegations is so large because he has insisted that investigators leave no stone unturned.

“When it comes to not just the allegations, but what I think a lot of people understand was clear abuse over decades going back to the ’60s: Look, other administrations didn’t want to jump into it. We jumped right in,” he said. “One thing I told the team was, we’re not going to look at a single time period, we’re not going to look at a single case, we’re going to open this thing completely and make sure that anybody that we can verify may have been abused in any way, justice is going to be served.”

The facility serves children ordered to a secure institutional setting by the juvenile justice system. The average population last year was just 17 residents overseen by about 90 employees, though it once housed upward of 100 youths and employed a larger staff.

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