State House passes bill banning solitary confinement for juveniles

AG Ferguson requested legislation

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s agency-request legislation to ban solitary confinement as a punitive practice for juveniles passed the state House of Representatives on Thursday, in a strong bipartisan vote of 76-20.

There is a growing national consensus that placing juveniles in solitary confinement is inhumane and does not improve behavior, according to a State Office of Attorney General news release. Studies have shown solitary confinement to be both emotionally and psychologically damaging for youth, as well as ineffective at improving behavior. Solitary confinement exacerbates stress and other mental health conditions, particularly for youth.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Reps. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, and Noel Frame, D-Seattle, spoke in favor of the bill on the floor. Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way, serves as the prime sponsor for the companion bill.

“We must reform our criminal justice system to reduce recidivism,” Ferguson said in the news release. “Doing away with practices that evidence shows do not work, and actually make it harder to rehabilitate youth, is common sense. I remain deeply appreciative of the diverse, bipartisan coalition that has come together to support this legislation.”

“Solitary confinement has no place in juvenile facilities,” Rep. Peterson said. “It traumatizes youth and hurts their ability to learn and grow into adults who are effectively re-integrated into society. I’m proud to have helped pass this bill.”

Ferguson’s legislation places restrictions on the use of room confinement and isolation in youth detention facilities, but it does not prohibit those tools. The legislation requires that the use of isolation and room confinement be limited to a period of no more than four hours, and only for the purpose of safety. Moreover, the bill requires institutions to document any use of isolation or room confinement.

Ferguson’s legislation applies to both county and state facilities.

Ferguson’s legislation is supported by several organizations, including the Washington Department of Children, Youth & Families, the American Civil Liberties Union, TeamChild, Columbia Legal Services and King County. Ten states, including California and Texas have passed similar laws.


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