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King County makes progress in tracking juvenile solitary confinement

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(The Center Square) – King County is seeing improvements in tracking young people in solitary confinement at the county juvenile detention center despite continuing staff shortages and a rising average daily population.

Ordinance 18637, passed in December 2017, prohibits solitary confinement of juveniles except when necessary for safety, security or other reasons precluding use of a less restrictive measure.

The Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center in Seattle is King County’s youth detention facility.

An August 2023 report reveals the progress being made by the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention in implementing Ordinance 18637.

The report addresses the department’s efforts from April 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023, noting systemic issues have made it difficult for detention officers to use the recently-implemented Jail Management System to keep track of juveniles put in restrictive housing.

The King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention implemented the Jail Management System in 2022 for collecting and tracking data related to the day-to-day management of detainees in facilities over a period of time, with the move to electronic documentation of restrictive housing events one of the last steps taken in the implementation process.

“As with all new technology, staff have undergone a learning curve as they have adapted to use of [the Jail Management System], made all the more difficult given staffing challenges and the rising average daily population,” the report stated.

King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Communications Specialist Noah Haglund told The Center Square in an email that at the beginning of March, the department had 14 Juvenile Detention Officer vacancies and 113 Corrections Officer vacancies.

The lack of officers caused both the juvenile and adult divisions to institute mandatory overtime prior, which the two divisions continue to rely on to maintain minimum staffing levels.

The King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention has implemented retention and overtime incentives to dissuade officers from leaving the department and to encourage them to volunteer for overtime work when needed.

As for the average daily population at the juvenile detention center, the lowest reported secure detention average daily population in 2023 was 36.3 youth in April. The average through July 2023 was 41.6 youth in secure detention. The center has averaged 46 youth in secure detention in January and February of this year.

The August 2023 report notes that the Juvenile Division switched from hard copy to electronic tracking of behavior incentives and behavior response actions in the second quarter of 2022.

“As with any type of system implementation, training and adjustment takes time and we continue to move in a positive direction to better document and address the use of restrictive housing,” Haglund noted.

He went on to say, “The functionality of [the Jail Management System] does not impede our ability to collect, track, or analyze restrictive housing data – nor does it prevent the Juvenile Division from adhering to the restrictive housing ordinance.”

The August report is the first to cover the period during which the monitoring team reviewed restrictive housing related data compiled through the Jail Management System.

The number of indoor restrictive housing incidents recorded in the period from April 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023, saw a monthly high of 59 in May 2023. The average monthly rate was approximately 27 restrictive housing incidents.

The report notes that many of the events resulting in restrictive housing involve more than one youth, whether they have a physical confrontation with each other, attack another youth, or assault a staff member.

Since then, the number of restrictive housing incidents increased to 62 in November and 63 in December.