A look inside the King County Juvenile Detention Center. File photo

A look inside the King County Juvenile Detention Center. File photo

King County is still using solitary confinement on juveniles

Report on solitary confinement shows the county is not honoring its agreement.

A report from an independent monitor was released earlier this week and showed that King County is still using solitary confinement as a punishment for juveniles despite the King County Council passing a resolution effectively banning it more than a year ago.

The council voted unanimously in December 2017 to ban the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in King County Jail and the Maleng Regional Justice Center. However, a recent report conducted by independent monitor Stephanie Vetter to King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office shows that between July and November 2018, the county illegally used solitary confinement 15 times on eight juvenile inmates.

On top of this, the county’s correction system also used program modification — systems where the juveniles locked up in county correctional facilities are denied free time — nearly 350 times. A public hearing was held March 26 at a packed county Law and Justice Committee meeting where King County Council members had strong words for corrections staff.

“We’ve got to make faster and better progress,” said council member Rod Dembowski. “If you needed more time, you should have come back to this council and said this is harder than we thought.”

Because the county was still using solitary confinement, committee chair Larry Gossett did not release $100,000 in appropriations. Juvenile Division director Pam Jones said they were working toward reform, but it also required retraining staff.

“We considered some things when we talked about solitary confinement. We said we need to be collaborative with the guild, we need to make sure staff were trained,” Jones said.

The independent monitor raised concerns that the average length of stay in juvenile facilities has been increasing from 12 days to more than 300 days, said Clif Curry, the county’s legal analyst. On top of this, youth who turn 18 and are transferred to different prisons do not receive adequate transition services, according to the report.

The county’s agreement to ban solitary confinement for juveniles in county jails stems from a lawsuit filed by four youth alleging they spent days in solitary confinement and were illegally denied educational services. The most recent report was the second of two, with the first being released late last year.

At a Dec. 3 county council meeting, the council approved strict guidelines stating county facilities cannot use solitary confinement unless it is “necessary to prevent significant physical harm to the juvenile detained or to others when less restrictive alternatives would be ineffective.” Juveniles must be given access to lawyers, counselors, educators and social service providers, according to the guidelines.

Vetter’s previous report documented 45 incidents of disciplinary action taken against juveniles during the report’s duration. It also found that youth of color seemed to receive a higher proportion of disciplinary measures. During the previous review period, the report found that African-American youth made up 47 percent of the detention population, but represented 62 percent of those disciplined.

In the most recent report, two African-American juveniles were put in solitary confinement five times; five white juveniles were put in solitary confinement nine times; and one Asian or Pacific Islander was put in solitary once. However, the report noted that Hispanic juveniles may have been counted as white under the county’s reporting mechanism.

For program modifications, the most recent report noted that 58 African-American juveniles were sanctioned 199 times,; 25 Hispanic juveniles were placed under program modification 74 times; and 17 white juveniles were sanctioned 61 times.

More in News & Comment

Washington State Capitol Building. Photo by Emma Epperly/WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Legislation targets rape kit backlog

WA has about 10,000 untested kits; new law would reduce testing time to 45 days

Two Issaquah High School students are under investigation after a racially insensitive photo surfaced over the weekend. Courtesy photo
Racially insensitive sign sparks investigation in Issaquah

High school students under investigation after Tolo photo goes viral.

Snohomish family detained by Border Patrol while on vacation

Little information has been provided since they were arrested Thursday near Tucson, Arizona.

Yaaah! Hipster Gregr of ‘Nerd Talk’ escapes city life

The morning host of radio station 107.7 The End has traded the Seattle vibe for Snohomish living.

Gov. Jay Inslee shakes hands with Dinah Griffey after signing Senate Bill 5649 on April 19. The law revises the statute of limitations for sex crimes. Photo by Emma Epperly, WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Hits and misses from Legislature’s 2019 session

New laws target vaccines, sex crimes and daylight savings; losers include sex ed and dwarf tossing bills.

If Inslee only knew, he might have run for president sooner

The governor isn’t a great dealmaker. His absences from Olympia may be helping get his bills passed.

Scott Barden stands next to the pit that will house the newest, and possibly final, section of the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill near Maple Valley. The pit is 120 feet deep, and around another 180 feet will be built on top of it over the next decade. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
King County’s landfill is going to get bigger

A ninth cell will be built, extending its life by another decade.

An aircraft is pictured at King County International Airport, also known as Boeing Field. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County wants to end deportation flights for ICE

Legal challenge expected from federal government.

USPS district manager Darrell Stoke, Janie Hendrix and Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) unveil the plaque honorarily naming the Renton Highlands Post Office as the “James Marshall ‘Jimi’ Hendrix Post Office” on Friday, April 19. Photo by Haley Ausbun
Renton Highlands Post Office honors Jimi Hendrix

Postal Service connected Hendrix to family during his Army service.

Most Read