The Sununu Youth Center, New Hampshire's only juvenile detention facility, is one step closer to finding a new function. What that will look like, however, remains unclear.
The center's population has been steadily declining: Currently just one third of the center's beds are occupied. A group that includes lawmakers, state officials, and the mayor of Manchester has been gathering ideas for better uses for the center. On Monday, they released a list of recommendations.
The options include:
- Close the center;
- Establish a psychiatric residential treatment facility, which would eventually cost the state more money;
- Build a smaller facility on the property for youth who’ve been ordered there by a judge and sell the current space to organizations that provide substance abuse and mental health treatment for juveniles.
Sen. David Boutin, who chairs the group working on this issue, said the third option is the only one that would save the state money in the long run.
“Well, I think it is a brand new concept, it completely gets away from trying to cut the budget," he said. "That’s easy, but it doesn’t solve the problem."
But Boutin said this issue likely wouldn’t be addressed until the next state budget in 2017.
Mary Ann Cooney, associate commissioner at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the current state budget doesn't fund the center to stay open at its current staffing levels. Cooney said Monday that if the $5 million cut to the Sununu Center's budget remains, the facility would have to lay off nearly half of its 120 employees.
Cooney hopes that at the next fiscal committee, lawmakers will allocate more funding or allow the department to reallocate money to make up for the reduction.