The Bulletin Board

Sununu announces revamped juvenile justice advisory task force

By: - October 12, 2021 5:00 pm
Closeup of handcuffs

In an executive order issued Oct. 7, Gov. Chris Sununu formally created the New Hampshire Juvenile Justice Reform Commission and named its members. (Getty Images)

A committee overseeing New Hampshire’s juvenile justice system is getting an overhaul this month, two months after Gov. Chris Sununu abruptly disbanded its predecessor

In an executive order issued Oct. 7, Sununu formally created the newly organized group, now known as the New Hampshire Juvenile Justice Reform Commission, and named its members. The new arrangement attempts to better align the panel with “advances in knowledge around adolescent development and youth offenders,” Gov. Chris Sununu announced last week. 

“This new advisory commission will help revamp and retool our system,” Sununu said.

The executive order followed a move by the governor to disband the previous group in August, arguing it was time to “bring in fresh perspectives and ideas.” Members of that committee said the decision had been made without their knowledge. 

While the state has been required to maintain some type of advisory group since the Juvenile Justice and Prevention Act of 1974, the new panel is designed to help the state redesign its whole system, Sununu said.

New Hampshire is in the process of closing down the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester; the two-year budget signed in June requires the 144-bed facility to be closed by 2023 and replaced with a new residential behavioral treatment program. The center has come under scrutiny after decades-long physical and sexual abuse allegations emerged from more than 300 people who had passed through the system as children. Eleven former staff members have been arrested in connection with those allegations. 

In his statement, the governor said he had “full confidence” that the members “will meet the challenges and opportunities facing the state as we create a juvenile justice system designed to meet the needs of the individuals, families, and communities in a safe, data-driven, and evidence-based manner.”

Speaking in August, Division for Children, Youth, and Families Director Joe Ribsam said the new commission would help the Department of Health and Human Services move the program forward into its next phase.

“The department continues to transform the state’s juvenile justice system to be a more proactive one that identifies and addresses youths’ needs before at-risk youth become involved with the courts,” Ribsam said. “I’m looking forward to working with the JJRC as we advance these goals.”

Sitting on the new commission are Ribsam; Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette; Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut; Department of Safety Commissioner Bob Quinn; and Rep. Cody Belanger, an Epping Republican who grew up in the juvenile justice system. 

The panel also includes Salem Police Detective Michael Geha; Circuit Court Judge Susan Ashley; New Hampshire Public Defender Pamela Jones; Gerard Quin, a juvenile probation officer; Manchester Juvenile Prosecutor Steve Ranfos; Patricia Clough, director of the New Hampshire Youth Advocate Programs; Nicole Rodler, the juvenile diversion coordinator at the Rochester Police Department; Hollis Master Patrol Officer Richard Bergeron; Granite State Children’s Alliance CEO Joy Barrett; Samantha Morin; Allyson Clary; Justyce Soucie; Haven Duffield; Mark Rolon; and Geoff Wilson.

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]