8 escapes since 2020 at Echo Glen as facility is told to ‘reinvent their campus’

The juvenile detention center from which seven teens escaped on Sunday is now investigating why they were housed in a medium security cottage when two of them were at Echo Glen Children’s Center due to murder sentences, including one who previously escaped from the center’s maximum security Klickitat cottage in January 2022.

Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families Director of Communications Jason Wettstein advised that a “full classification level audit” is being performed, in addition to the “thorough” Critical Incident Review currently underway to look at Sunday’s escape.

New numbers from DCYF, which oversees the juvenile detention center, show there have been eight escapes from Echo Glen since 2020 involving 21 individuals. In at least three of them, staff members were overpowered and assaulted.

The head of the union for the workers at Echo Glen, Washington Federal of State Employees President Mike Yestramski, called the assaults a massive issue.

“There are regularly staff who are assaulted, who are unable to come back to work,” he said, “either due to their physical or due to the mental and emotional damage that has happened to them.”

KIRO 7 obtained hundreds of pages of records from DCYF, including the Critical Incident Review from Jan. 26th, 2022. In it, officials had more than 20 recommended changes after laying out a list of problems.

When it comes to security cameras, the report noted, “the system across campus has been intermittently recording,” adding, “there is no one area regularly recording and following incidents, it is hit or miss.”

When KIRO 7 asked Wettstein if cameras on campus are working now, he said that “the camera system has been improved since then.”

“We are not able to discuss security or camera capabilities in detail in the interest of avoiding revealing security practices or capabilities to our youth residents via public media,” he added.

The review also revealed, “Security Equipment (body alarms and radios) are not carried consistently by direct care staff.”

The center is looking into whether a body alarm was carried on Sunday.

Records also show in a visit to Echo Glen in 2019, an administrator asked the security team, “Do you practice or conduct escape drills?” They responded, “No.”

DCYF said the drills are happening now, though Yestramski told KIRO 7 that they are happening sporadically.

The report also brings up concerns about staffing and scheduling, areas where Yestramski says the center needs major improvements. Wettstein acknowledged to KIRO 7 that the facility is short-staffed and said they are actively recruiting to fill the gap. Whether “staff were sufficient to protocol” early Sunday morning during the escape, he said, is part of the current review.

Officials stated near the conclusion of the January Critical Incident Review, “Echo Glen must reinvent their campus” and “this will require necessary changes.”

“At the end of the day, you do care,” Yestramski said. “You care about these children. You care about your community. You care about the public.”

The state said Echo Glen, which first opened in 1967, has a two-year operating budget of $45.8 million.