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Report shows $13M awarded to NH YDC victims, as growing number choose settlements rather than courtroom

Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, NH. Dan Tuohy photo.
Dan Tuohy
Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, NH. Dan Tuohy photo.

A new status report on the number of claims of physical and sexual abuse at state-run youth detention facilities in New Hampshire shows an increasing share of victims are opting to forgo trials in exchange for faster payouts.

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, the independent arbitrator empowered to settle those claims, filed his latest report Tuesday.

Between July and September, 88 people who said they were abused at the Youth Detention Center in Manchester and other state-contracted facilities filed requests for settlements, for a total of 180 claims to date.

According to the report, 29 claims have now been paid out, totaling $13.4 million. The total amount requested in the claims filed to date is $174 million, however, which would liquidate the state’s settlement fund unless lawmakers allocate more money.

In recent years, more than a thousand victims of alleged violence at these state facilities have come forward, detailing a culture of abuse carried out by employees and contractors. State prosecutors have arrested at least 11 former YDC employees, charging them with sexual assault and other crimes, and have asked any former residents of the facility to assist in documenting other allegations of abuse.

The ongoing civil lawsuits brought by former residents of the youth facilities present a potentially seismic financial hit to the state, according to lawyers backing the cases. In response, the New Hampshire Legislature created a $100 million fund to pay settlements to alleged victims, if they agreed to forgo legal cases.

Some of the lawyers behind the pending civil suits have criticized state officials for capping payouts from the victims’ fund at $1.5 million, well below what they argue a jury may award based on the severity of the abuse suffered.

State lawmakers changed how the settlement fund was administered earlier this year to encourage more people to participate, after receiving fewer claims than anticipated. That included allowing those seeking a settlement to go deeper into the negotiation process without signing away their legal rights to file a civil lawsuit.

“I believe there is much potential benefit,” Broderick, the fund administrator, wrote in the report. “Claimants waive no rights unless they accept a settlement with the Attorney General’s Office or a decision by me following a resolution proceeding.”

The first criminal trials are scheduled to begin next April in Superior Court and could stretch on for years. Some tried to pursue a class action lawsuit against the state, arguing it could have simplified the legal process for victims, but a judge denied that request, citing the unique nature of each victim’s allegations.

Broderick noted in his quarterly report that the fund is training his staff to use a trauma-focused approach to negotiations with those who come forward seeking payouts.

“I remain confident that if those who utilize the administrative claims process are treated fairly, respectfully, and promptly, many will accept the results,” he said.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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