King County Council Vice Chair Rod Dembowski introduced legislation on Thursday that would ban solitary confinement for minors in detention.
The proposal would also require the county to provide incarcerated youth with adequate educational resources, and calls for the use of detention practices suited for youth and their brain development, regardless of the location where the young person is detained, according to a Dembowski media release.
“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,” Dembowski said. “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 at the Regional Justice Center (RJC) in Kent. In addition, it is apparent to me that educational programs required by law are woefully inadequate at the RJC.”
Dembowski represents District 1, which includes Bothell, Kenmore, Kirkland, Lake Forest Park, North Seattle, Shoreline, and Woodinville.
Most youth detained by the county are held at the King County Juvenile Detention Center in Seattle. Some young people who have been charged as adults are housed at the Maleng Regional Justice Center or, occasionally, at the King County Correctional Facility. Those youth are separated from the adult population at these facilities, but solitary confinement has also been used to punish young offenders.
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 has shown that solitary confinement does not reduce behavioral incidents and may increase aggressive or violent behavior by youth.
“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,” said Janis Avery, CEO of Treehouse. “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.”
“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,” said Terry Pottmeyer, president and CEO of Friends of Youth. “We wholeheartedly support Councilmember Dembowski’s effort to end the solitary confinement of children in King County.”
The legislation proposed by Dembowski seeks to implement reforms while ensuring the safety of King County staff working in the detention facilities.
It would ban the use of solitary confinement for youth in all county detention facilities. It 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.
“Justice-involved youth will come out of the system and return to our society. I believe that we should do what we can to support them returning as productive members of our community,” said Dembowski. “Adult-jailing practices and inadequate educational opportunities hinder, rather than help achieve that goal for youth. It’s past time to end them.”