King County Signs an Executive Order to Remove Youth Housed At the Maleng Regional Justice Center

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Concerned parents recently filed suit against King County for placing children in solitary confinement for weeks and months at a time at the Maleng Regional Justice Center (RJC) in Kent, Washington, and for failing to provide the children under its care with an appropriate education. Today, less than two weeks later, King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an Executive Order today that in effect concedes, as it must, the allegations these parents and their children have made are true. The announcement, while a step in the right direction, nonetheless does not address major flaws in the way that King County continues to treat children caught up in the criminal justice system.

“We’re encouraged that the County is reconsidering its inappropriate practice of holding children at an adult facility at some point in the future, yet children remain in isolation at the Regional Justice Center now and continue to be denied a proper education,” said Nick Straley, an attorney with the Institutions Project at Columbia Legal Services. “Just as a new youth jail is inappropriate if the County’s goal is zero youth detention, keeping children in isolation at an adult jail is wrong if the new policy admits as much.” The Executive Order states that “by March 1, 2018, no youth will be housed at [RJC], except under emergency situations” and reveals that fifteen youth currently remain at the facility.

When this case was filed, six children were confined in their cells and only allowed out for one hour every three days. These children even spent that one hour alone, by themselves. Since this case was filed the County appears to have somewhat adjusted its practice. However, even today, some children at the RJC remain alone for both the 21 hours per day they are in their cells and the time when they are out of their cells. The County has not committed to changing how it uses isolation against children at the RJC even though under its announced plan, children will be held at the adult jail for many more months.

Children in isolation at the RJC are receiving only five minutes of face-to-face time with a teacher from the Kent School District 3 to 4 times per week. Other children who are not currently isolated receive at most one hour of instruction on the same days. The County acknowledges that it provides much less education to the children at the RJC than to children at the Youth Services Center on East Alder Street. Yet it has not committed to providing children currently detained at the RJC with an adequate education even though it will be holding children at the RJC for many more months.

“The County continues to cling to practices which disproportionately harm children of color and there’s little evidence this will change,” said Travis Andrews, Juvenile Justice Policy Analyst with Columbia Legal Services. “We will continue standing with children and their families to ensure that King County commits to completely re-envisioning how it treats children in the criminal justice system.”

King County remains committed to building a youth jail that its own experts agree will not meet the needs of the children who will be locked up there. And King County remains committed to charging children as adults without any oversight or consideration of the facts of particular situations.

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