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

Vashon: An island of chill amid the Seattle-Tacoma rat race

With good food, craft beverages and a relaxed vibe, it offers a quintessential Northwest experience.

What’s next for Washington’s 2045 green energy goal?

The Legislature set the goal, but how does the state actually get there?

Tasting room proposal could redefine alcohol production in King County

Pilot program would benefit wineries, breweries and distilleries. Several farmers are concerned.

William Talbott II, left, listens as his public defender Jon Scott questions potential jurors at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Thursday, June 13, 2019 in Everett, Wash. Snohomish County sheriff’s detective Jim Scharf, right, listens from the prosecutor’s table. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Jury selected for 1987 cold case double murder trial

Opening statements are Friday in William Talbott’s trial for the killing of a young Canadian couple.

WSF cancels ferry sailings this week and next for repairs

Washington State Ferries will cancel several late-night sailings to make repairs at… Continue reading

Class in Everett school prepares students to be translators

A year in, the interpretation and translation course is seeing promising results for bilingual students.

In a 2015 report from the Washington State Department of Ecology, King County’s Cedar Hills Regional Landfill received 53,739 tons of of plastic bags and wrap from housing and commercial sources alone. File photo/Sound Publishing
No good solution to the plastics problem

Plastic is piling up everywhere from King County to ocean floors, and humans keep making more.

Alaska Air adds Palm Springs to Paine Field schedule

Daily service between Everett and the California desert begins Nov. 5.

For 50 years, Zeke’s off US 2 has served delicious burgers

It’s been a popular pit stop in Gold Bar for skiers and hikers, and the same family still runs it.

Most Read