Frustrated former residents of New Hampshire’s only youth detention center are pushing for a federal investigation into allegations of decades of abuse.
The Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, previously called the Youth Development Center, has been under criminal investigation by the state since 2019. Ten former workers and an 11th who worked at a pretrial facility in Concord were arrested in 2021.
Close to 1,000 men and women have sued the state alleging physical, sexual or emotional abuse. But the slow pace of the criminal and civil proceedings has some calling for the federal Department of Justice to step in.
“Get the state out of it, because they’re not looking to give us real justice,” said Charles Glenn, who spent several years at the facility in the mid-1990s. “They’re complicit to sexual physical violence in this institution for over 40 years because for over 40 years, they’ve done nothing.”
Glenn, 42, helped organize a rally Friday afternoon in Concord where several former residents and their supporters spoke. He did not attend because he is serving a 40-year-to-life sentence for second-degree murder, but his wife spoke on his behalf.
In his lawsuit, Glenn alleges he was raped by three workers at the youth center and beaten by a dozen more, suffering multiple broken bones.
Glenn said in a phone interview that the abuse started within a week of his arrival, when he came out of his room one night after having a nightmare and was dragged back in, put in restraints and beaten.
“I kept screaming and crying, and I was scared to be in there, and they wrapped a towel around my face to muffle the screams,” he said.
The abuse escalated when he was moved to another housing unit, Glenn said.
“We were combative verbally, and they wanted to demasculate us and humiliate us and do something that would break us," he said.
Corrine Moon, 40, who spent three years at the facility in the late 1990s, said workers in the girls’ cottage looked the other way when male staffers from other dorms showed up at night.
"They were just as sick as the men who would come and rape us. They never seemed to question why my abuser would come to my room in the middle of the night and close the door behind him," she said. “I never knew when I would get a surprise visit in the middle of the night.”
She and others argued it is a conflict of inflict for separate teams from the attorney general's office to both prosecute alleged abusers criminally and defend the state against allegations in the civil lawsuits.
“We want an apology from the state of New Hampshire, and we want a federal investigation,” Michael Gilpatrick, who spent several years at the facility in the 1990s, said in an interview. “We don't want them to continue belittling us.”
Michael Garrity, spokesperson for the New Hampshire attorney general's office, said Friday the state's criminal investigation remains active. He referred questions about a possible federal investigation to the U.S. attorney's office. A spokesperson there said she could neither confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.
In similar cases elsewhere, the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement in 2022 with the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice after finding state officials were violating the rights of incarcerated youths by failing to protect them from fights, forcing them to spend days or weeks in isolation for minor offenses and failing to provide mental health treatment when they threaten to harm or kill themselves.
In 2021, federal investigators said isolation practices and lack of mental health services at a Connecticut facility were seriously harming children.
The Justice Department also is examining whether children in five Texas youth detention facilities have been protected from physical and sexual abuse by other residents and subjected to excessive use of sedation drugs and isolation.
The New Hampshire youth center, which once housed upward of 100 children but now typically serves fewer than a dozen, is named for former Gov. John H. Sununu, father of current Gov. Chris Sununu. Lawmakers have approved closing the facility and replacing it with a much smaller operation, likely in a new location.