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$100,000 Withheld from Washington Jail for Failure to Fully Implement Ban on Juvenile Solitary Confinement

by Chad Marks

The King County jail system in Washington State was slated to receive $100,000 in March 2019, but the payment was put on hold following reports that jail officials were not fully complying with a ban on placing juvenile offenders in solitary confinement.

The payment was premised on the King County Council receiving two reports from the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD). The reports were to outline how the council’s December 2017 ban on solitary confinement for juveniles was being implemented. One of the reports, issued in January 2019, revealed that some youths still were being placed in restrictive housing, which was supposed to cease. That triggered the council’s decision to withhold the $100,000.

Guidelines adopted by the council members in December 2018 made it clear that any juveniles held in King County detention facilities could not be placed in solitary unless it was “necessary to prevent significant physical harm to the juvenile detained or to others when less restrictive alternatives would be ineffective.” 

The DAJD report indicated the jail system had resorted to solitary confinement for juvenile offenders 15 times over a five-month period, and did not document the reasons for putting them in segregation, how long they were held there, the racial demographics for the youths placed in solitary or what, if any, other alternatives were considered.

Rob Dembowski, a King County Council member, said the report revealed a “total delay and obfuscations of implementing the law.” He added, “It’s very disappointing to pass a law, have the executive tout a national leading reform by putting public health in charge of juvenile detention, and then a year and a half later see that we have ongoing racial disproportionality in terms of the use of solitary confinement and the use of solitary confinement period.”

One juvenile reported that he had been held in solitary for three months based on false allegations by a roommate. “I cannot sleep,” he said. “I need something to help me sleep and not have nightmares. I don’t know when I’m ever getting out of restrictive housing.” 

Despite its failure to comply with the law, King County’s jail system may receive the $100,000 anyway. The council said it plans to require additional independent reports tracking the ban on placing juveniles in solitary. If the jail system agrees and begins complying with the guidelines, they will likely get the payment. 

In addition to the juvenile solitary law, King County settled a lawsuit in August 2018 over placing youths in solitary confinement, paying $240,000 in damages and agreeing to implement policy changes – changes that, according to the DAJD report, are not always being followed. [See: PLN, March 2019, p.26].

“Our hope is that the county takes this as seriously as we do and hopefully we can move forward,” said Travis Andrews, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, who represented the juvenile offenders in the lawsuit. “I’m not sure what’s needed to make those changes, but in the meantime people are being damaged in the process. That’s our major concern.” 



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