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N.H. House to vote on reviving juvenile justice advisory board

The House today will consider reviving a long-dormant advisory board that, as proposed, would play an integral role in shaping the future of the state’s juvenile justice system.

The legislation, brought by Republican Sen. Sharon Carson and backed last week by the House Children and Family Law Committee, would greatly expand the size and scope of the board. The board met last year for the first time in nearly a decade, following complaints about devolving conditions at the Sununu Youth Development Center, the state’s juvenile detention center in Manchester.

Carson, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the House committee earlier this month that there was concern that the facility’s ongoing push toward treatment-based rehabilitation had come at the expense of adequate safety and correctional measures. Employees have reported more frequent assaults by residents, and some have said they were told by supervisors to water down reports documenting such incidents.

Officials overseeing the facility have disputed that account, contending instead that violent outbursts have in fact declined in recent years, and that supervisors have simply asked that employees be more objective in their written accounts.

The House committee has amended the bill from its initial draft. Under the new version, the advisory board expansion would not be as large in scope as originally proposed. The board would include legislators, representatives from various state departments, a judge, a county jail superintendent, a parent of a current resident and a facility spokesperson selected by the staff.

The new draft also re-establishes the juvenile justice system as a standalone division, rather than a branch of the Division of Children, Youth and Families. Both would still fall under the management of the Department of Health and Human Services. The change would effectively remove Maggie Bishop, the director of DCYF, from her oversight position at the center. Bishop has led the charge toward heavier treatment over the past three years, when juvenile justice was folded into her division.

If adopted, the bill would require the advisory board to select candidates to head the juvenile division. A final decision would be made by the governor and the Executive Council. The job would be up for reappointment every four years.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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