The Bulletin Board

Sununu Center committee to file recommendations by Nov. 1, but with few specifics

By: - October 21, 2021 12:17 pm
Exterior sign for the Sununu Youth Services Center

Some committee members expressed doubt a replacement of the Sununu Youth Services Center could be in place before March 2023. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Lawmakers charged with creating a plan for closing and replacing the state’s juvenile detention facility will file recommendations by their Nov. 1 deadline. But those recommendations will be vague because there was not time to do more, they said Thursday.

During their final meeting, some committee members also expressed doubt a replacement of the Sununu Youth Services Center could be in place before March 2023, the closure date set by the Legislature.

The committee has not researched the option of building a new treatment site on the 100 acres surrounding Hampstead Hospital, an inpatient psychiatric facility the Department of Health and Human Services announced last week it plans to buy, because those intentions were not shared with the committee.  

Sen. Gary Daniels, a Milford Republican, said Thursday he knows only what he has read in the media. 

A consultant hired by the Department of Health and Human Services recommended replacing the 144-bed detention center with an 18-bed “home” that emphasizes therapeutic relationships.

The study committee’s suggested options will likely include building a new facility, renovating an existing building (but not the center), or hiring a nonprofit to provide a secure treatment facility for court-involved children ages 13 to 17.  During a meeting earlier this month, members also discussed using county correctional facilities but ruled that out.

To save money on operating costs, committee members have said the new site should be located next to an existing facility so the two can share resources, such as a laundry and a kitchen. 

Gov. Chris Sununu and Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said last week the state has been negotiating the Hampstead Hospital purchase with hospital officials for some time; Shibinette will soon ask the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee to approve buying it with $15.1 million in federal pandemic funds. The department has contracted with the hospital throughout the pandemic for inpatient psychiatric care for children.

Asked Tuesday if the department is considering the hospital grounds as an option, spokesman Jake Leon said they are awaiting recommendations from the committee. “All sites that can provide the capacity and therapeutic needs of a secure youth residential facility would be considered,” he said in an email.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.