CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s proposed process for settling decades of sexual and physical abuse allegations at its youth detention center amounts to “setting a trap” for hundreds of financially insecure victims, according to their lawyers.
Lawmakers have approved a $100 million settlement fund for men and women who were abused as children at the Sununu Youth Services Center, formerly called the Youth Development Center. The attorney general’s office released preliminary documents last week on how it would calculate individual payments and plans to update them based on feedback from the victims’ lawyers before submitting them to lawmakers for approval.
According to the draft documents, victims of sexual assault would be eligible for base awards ranging from $25,000 to $200,000 that would be increased based on the frequency of abuse plus nearly a dozen aggravating factors, including abuse that resulted in pregnancy, perpetration by multiple people or continued abuse for more than two years.
Victims would have two years to file claims, starting Jan. 1. Individual payments for sexual abuse will be limited to $1.5 million, while payments for physical abuse will be limited to $150,000.
The figures are based on national research into similar settlements reached with nearly 5,000 claimants nationwide, officials said. But attorneys for the potential claimants in New Hampshire called them “absurdly low.”
In a letter to Attorney General John Formella, attorneys Rus Rilee and David Vicinanzo said Thursday that the base amounts appear driven by the desire to resolve as many claims as possible under the limits, “not by any sense of fairness or decency.”
The attorneys also argued that in researching other settlements elsewhere, the state include cases that aren’t similar to the New Hampshire abuse and left out comparable cases. And they repeated their criticism that victims shouldn’t be forced to give up their right to sue with no guarantee they will get any money.
“No rational victim would do this, especially victims who already distrust the state which has systematically abused them for decades,” they wrote. “By creating this cruel condition, the state reveals to its victims and to the public that it remains defensive, not remorseful.”
The Manchester facility, named after former Gov. John H. Sununu, has been the target of a broad criminal investigation since 2019. Ten of its former workers and an 11th who worked at a Concord detention facility were arrested last year, and nearly 450 former residents have sued the state based on allegations involving more than 150 staffers from 1963 to 2018.