Under the settlement, the county also will pay $240,000 to four juveniles who were held in solitary confinement at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

Share story

King County has agreed to ban placing juvenile inmates in solitary confinement except in limited circumstances under a settlement approved Monday by a federal judge in Seattle.

Under the settlement, the county will pay $240,000 to four juveniles who were held in solitary confinement at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

The settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, was sparked by a lawsuit brought by the four teenagers who were charged as adults and allegedly held for stretches of time in solitary confinement in the Regional Justice Center. The lawsuit, which was shepherded by Columbia Legal Services, focused on juveniles who King County prosecutors had charged as adults for violent crimes.

The settlement highlights the issues teenagers face in the criminal-justice system, said Travis Andrews, the juvenile-justice policy analyst at Columbia Legal Services. “The significance of this particular settlement speaks to the treatment of juveniles in King County,” he said.

The settlement allows the county to, in certain circumstances, place teenagers in solitary confinement for short amounts of time  and not as punishment. King County also agreed to work with a monitor who will regularly report on the incarceration of juveniles, the use of solitary confinement and examine the transfer of any minor to an adult facility, like the Regional Justice Center.

After the lawsuit was filed this past year, Metropolitan King County Executive Dow Constantine ordered all juvenile defendants charged as adults to be moved to the Youth Services Center in Seattle. Constantine then moved to have the county treat youth crime as a public-health issue with a goal of not incarcerating youths.

In an emailed response to the settlement, Constantine wrote Monday, “We welcome Judge Coughenour’s acceptance of our settlement agreement. The staff at the Youth Services Center is implementing a new policy drafted with input from Columbia Legal Services that is consistent with our Public Health approach to programming within the Juvenile Division.”

Not locking up children is a laudable and necessary goal, which runs counter to the county building a new youth detention center in Seattle, Andrews said. Andrews now wants the county and the community to focus on a system of rehabilitation — and not incarceration — for youths.

“If our goal is rehabilitation, we must treat children as children. If our goal is truly zero youth detention, we must take real and lasting steps in that direction,” Andrews said in a statement.

The county has reduced the juvenile jail population by 70 percent over the past 20 years and is committed to reducing it further, Constantine’s office has said. The new juvenile jail would offer an expanded space for supportive programs that “will connect even more youth and families to community-based services.”

State law requires the county to maintain a youth-detention center.

Under the settlement, the county will pay the four plaintiffs $215,000 to be split equally between them as well as $25,000 for legal fees. The settlement also encompassed a complaint filed with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction against the Kent School District, which was responsible for the education of juveniles at the Regional Justice Center. As part of the settlement, the Kent district will retool its procedures and policies for educating children and will pay the four plaintiffs $25,000 for a denial of educational services, according to the settlement.