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Consultants hired to develop NH youth center closure plan

July 5, 2021 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Plans to close New Hampshire’s youth detention center are quickly taking shape, with a consultant due to submit a preliminary report in the next two weeks.

The two-year state budget Gov. Chris Sununu signed June 25 includes a mandate to close the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester by March 2023. But the state Department of Health and Human Services didn’t wait for lawmakers and the governor to act; it signed a $55,000 contract with Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services of Washington, D.C., on June 8.

The contract, paid for with federal pandemic aid, requires the consultants to deliver a draft closure plan by mid-July and a final report by August. According to details submitted to the governor’s Executive Council last week, the department didn’t have time to solicit bids given the time-sensitive work but it consulted with stakeholders before hiring the firm.

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Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette told the council she met with advocates for juvenile justice, including the Disability Rights Center and the Office of the Child Advocate.

“We have this opportunity to build the right-sized program on a clinical model instead of a detention model. So I brought the advocates together to say, ‘What is your ideal model,’” she said. “They said they weren’t qualified and that I should hire a consultant. So that is what I did.”

The consultants will analyze the center’s past and current operations and will interview staff, former and current youth and families, law enforcement, educators and others. They also will analyze national best practices to identify safe and appropriate alternatives for youth placement and for the future use of the facility.

The state currently spends about $13 million a year to operate the center, named for former Gov. John H. Sununu. Though it once held upwards of 100 youth, the typical population now is fewer than 20. The budget calls for replacing it with a new facility with room for up to 18 youth.

Debate over the center’s future began years ago, but it has come to a head amid recent abuse allegations made by more than 300 men and women who say they were physically or sexually abused as children by 150 staffers at the state’s facility from 1960 to 2018. The state Division for Children, Youth and Families is cooperating with a broad criminal investigation launched in 2019, and 11 former workers have been arrested since April.