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.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@issaquahreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.issaquahreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

A train route that would shuttle people between Eastern and Western Washington could tie in with the proposed ultra-high-speed rail between B.C. and Portland. Photo courtesy RobertStafford/Pixabay.com
State receives King County to Spokane rail study

It would take about eight and a half hours to reach the Inland Empire from Puget Sound.

Bret Chiafalo. File photo
Supreme Court says state can punish WA faithless electors

Justices: Presidential electors, including Everett man, must keep pledge to back popular vote winner

Gov. Jay Inslee issued new guidance allowing the resumption of self-service buffets, salad bars, salsa bars, drink stations and other types of communal food sources in Phase 2. File photo
Buffets and salad bars back on the menu in King County

Gov. Jay Inslee has revised rules to allow self-serve food areas in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening.

Folks enjoy outdoor eating during the start of the Streatery Pilot in downtown Issaquah. Photo courtesy city of Issaquah.
Streatery Pilot on pause while COVID-19 cases rise

The city council will review the pilot program July 20 for possible reopening July 24

Brian Tilley (left) and Katie Dearman work the wash station Friday at Kate’s Greek American Deli in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Governor’s no-mask, no-service order begins across Washington

“Just do not ring up the sale,” Gov. Jay Inslee said about customers who do not don the proper masks.

King County homeless count: 11,751 people, up 5 percent from 2019

One night a year, volunteers spread out across Seattle and King County… Continue reading

Nurse Sylvia Keller, pictured with Gov. Jay Inslee, is on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle in Yakima County. Courtesy photo
Governor doubles down on mask rules

Inslee: Starting July 7, businesses do not serve those who do not wear a mask

State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Politicians get pay raises, state workers get furloughs

A citizens panel approved the hikes in 2019. Unable to rescind them, lawmakers look to donate their extra earnings.

Human remains in West Seattle identified

Bags of body parts were found in a suitcase along a West Seattle beach on June 19.

Most Read