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Workers Say Youth Detention Cuts Put Children and Staff at Risk

June 27, 2008

Manchester, NH - Workers at the Sununu Youth Detention Center say the budget cuts announced by Juvenile Justice Director William Fenniman could create what they call 'unsafe staffing levels.' Fenniman has proposed permanent reductions of five percent in direct care staffing, resulting in ratios of up to 12 detainees to one staff member.

Evelyn Clark-Smith, an operations officer at the center, says that may be a wonderful ratio for a school classroom, but things are a little different in juvenile detention.

"Most of them are juvenile delinquents. Just the other night we had a 350-pound kid jump one of our staff and try to strangle them. If that happens in school, they send the kid here, right?"

Clark-Smith says the staff reductions may yield short-term savings, but the long-term costs to society could be much higher.

"Someday, the kids will to going back out into society, untreated. That means they're going to reoffend, so they're going to be sent back here. Don't we want to treat them while they're cognitively having the ability to be treated?"

Fenniman has said his cuts are needed to save up to $189,000 per year. The workers have called for his removal, but Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas has said he has no intention of firing Fenniman.

John Robinson/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - NH