The Maleng Regional Justice Center is located at 401 4th Ave. N. in Kent. File photo

The Maleng Regional Justice Center is located at 401 4th Ave. N. in Kent. File photo

King County Bans Solitary Confinement of Juveniles

Policy shift comes as part of a settlement in response to a 2017 lawsuit

King County has agreed to ban solitary confinement of juveniles in county jails, as well as pay four teens $215,000 to settle a lawsuit they filed last October over the county’s solitary-confinement practices. With the help of the Seattle-based Columbia Legal Services firm, the four filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that they spent days in solitary confinement and were illegally denied educational services while in custody at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. The suit also called for the county to eliminate solitary confinement for juveniles entirely.

Now, under the settlement, King County will eliminate the use of solitary confinement except in limited circumstances, and then for only short durations. The specifics of these exceptions have yet to be outlined, however, and will be negotiated between the county and Columbia Legal Services, according to Charlie McAteer, a spokesperson for the law firm. As the settlement is written, solitary confinement will be allowed when it is “necessary to prevent imminent and significant physical harm to the juvenile detained or to others and less restrictive alternatives were unsuccessful.”

The county has also agreed to work with a monitor who will provide regular reports to Columbia Legal Services and county officials on their solitary-confinement practices. They’ve also promised to work with Columbia Legal Services to compose a new solitary-confinement policy that requires a mental-health professional and a parent or legal guardian to be notified within eight hours whenever juveniles enter solitary confinement.

In addition to the $215,000 that the plaintiffs will evenly split among themselves, they will also receive $25,000 for legal fees.

“King County’s practice of isolating children is out of step with community values, the science, and generally accepted correctional standards because it is harmful to children and counterproductive,” said Nick Straley, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services in a August 20 news release. “It’s past time to take a big step forward to eliminate the inhumane practice of isolation that harms already vulnerable children and violates their constitutional rights.”

The settlement also resolves a portion of the lawsuit that alleged that the county and the Kent School District failed to provide juveniles with adequate educational services while incarcerated. The Kent School District has also agreed to reform its policies for educating youth held at the Regional Justice Center and will pay the four plaintiffs $25,000.

The lawsuit applied only to juveniles who had been charged as adults by prosecutors for particularly violent offenses, and were therefore held in adult detention facilities. The county has since moved all its youths charged as adults to the existing youth detention center in central Seattle. Prior to the 2017 lawsuit, King County Executive Dow Constantine directed the county to pursue a goal of zero youth detention. In a statement, Constantine spokesperson Alex Fryer said that their office welcomes the presiding judge’s acceptance of their settlement agreement.

Update (Aug. 20): This post has been updated to include comment from King County Executive Dow Constantine’s staff on the settlement.

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