The practice of housing teens at a jail designed for adults will end by this spring after a lawsuit highlighted the lack of schooling and use of solitary confinement for youths at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.
Following the filing of a federal lawsuit protesting solitary confinement of minors at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, King County Executive Dow Constantine has directed that all juvenile defendants criminally charged as adults be moved to the Youth Services Center in Seattle, which is better able to meet their needs.
The lawsuit filed last month by Columbia Legal Services noted that four teens awaiting trial and living in isolation cells at the jail in Kent received only 10 minutes per day of face-to-face conversation with a teacher, who slid work sheets under their door.
“We know from scientific research that solitary confinement can permanently harm young people,” said Metropolitan King County Council Vice Chair Rod Dembowski. “I had previously been led to believe that King County did not engage in this practice, and I am disheartened and frustrated that King County has for years treated juvenile offenders with adult jail rules and practices.”
By March 1, no juvenile defendant will be housed at the justice center, except under emergency situations, Constantine’s executive order says. Currently, there are 15 juvenile defendants housed at the regional jail in Kent.
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Legally, imprisoned youths are entitled to a minimum 30 minutes per week of instruction, but Dembowski, noting that most will eventually return to society, took aim at the state law permitting such a low bar.
“It is apparent to me that educational programs required by law are woefully inadequate,” he said. “Adult-jailing practices and inadequate educational opportunities hinder, rather than help achieve that goal for youth. It’s past time to end them.”
Services offered at the Youth Services Center include a King County library branch, a full-service school and a mental health and adolescent clinic staffed by physicians from Seattle Children’s hospital and the University of Washington.