King County Council bans solitary confinement for youth in detention

King County Council bans solitary confinement for youth in detention

 (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — The Metropolitan King County Council voted Monday to ban solitary confinement for minors in detention.

The legislation passed also requires King County to provide incarcerated minors with "adequate educational resources, and the use of detention practices suited for youth and their brain development, regardless of the location where the youth is being detained," according to a press release from the council.

“We are working hard to improve our juvenile justice system in King County. We know from scientific research that solitary confinement can permanently harm young people so I am pleased that we are now ending this harmful practice,” council Vice Chair Rod Dembowski said.

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“This legislation is two positive steps forward,” council member Larry Gossett said. “It ends the county’s policy of a practice that is detrimental to young people, and increases the effort we must make to provide youth in county custody with the services they need to improve their lives.”

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“It is my hope that this legislation marks a significant shift in the way we think about and administer justice, especially for minors, at King County,” council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles said. “It is our responsibility to make sure all young people in detention have the access and opportunity they need to reach their full potential, such as educational programming required under state law.”

The majority of minors detained by King County are held at the King County Juvenile Detention Center, at 1211 E. Alder St. in Seattle.

Some minors who have been charged as adults are housed at the Maleng Regional Justice Center, at 401 4th Ave N. in Kent.

Occasionally, minors are housed at the King County Correctional Facility, at 500 5th Ave. in Seattle.

Minors held at the Maleng Regional Justice Center and the King County Correctional Facility are separated from the adult population, but are subject to being placed in solitary confinement or isolation.

Minors held at the Youth Services Center are not subject to being placed in solitary confinement or isolation.

The press release from the Metropolitan King County Council explains, "The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has noted that even short periods of isolation often have serious long-term mental health impacts on juveniles, and research shows that solitary confinement does not reduce behavioral incidents and may increase aggressive or violent behavior by youth."

“There is a growing national consensus that placing juveniles is solitary confinement is both unconstitutional and inhumane. Solitary confinement profoundly harms youth and undermines efforts to rehabilitate detained juveniles. The ordinance sends a strong message that this practice should not occur in King County Detention facilities, and we applaud the council for showing strong leadership to protect children,” Vanessa Hernandez, Youth Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said.

“Placing youth in solitary confinement must stop. It is inconsistent with our community’s belief that rehabilitation, not punishment, is the primary goal of our juvenile justice system,” Terry Pottmeyer, president and CEO of Friends of Youth, said. “We wholeheartedly support Councilmember Dembowski’s effort to end the solitary confinement of children in King County.”

“It is our moral imperative to facilitate child and youth development that allows each young person to be productive and effectively engaged in our community,” Janis Avery, CEO of Treehouse, said. “When young people commit crimes that lead to incarceration and prosecution, it is critically important that we engage in rehabilitation rather than punishment. Youth and young adults are capable of change and deserve intervention to lead a contributing and satisfying life.”

The unanimously adopted legislation will "end the use of solitary confinement/isolation as county policy, reducing its use to instances where, because of safety, security or another reason, a less restrictive option is not available. The legislation also calls for strict monitoring of those youth placed in solitary confinement/isolation and requests the Executive engage an independent monitor to report on the implementation of the requirements," according to the council.

The legislation also calls for the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention to "take into consideration the developmental needs of young people in detention and take steps to ensure they have access to education and therapeutic programs that will set them up for success when they leave the detention facility," the council said.