JW v. Pierce County
Affirmed detained youth’s right to an education while in custody.
Criminal Justice Reform – IMPACT LITIGATION
In June 2009 Columbia Legal Services filed a class action lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court on behalf of all youth under age 18 who were being detained at the Pierce County Jail. The lawsuit was filed because the Pierce County Jail and the Tacoma School District failed to provide these youth with any educational services in violation of their rights under the Washington Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the defendants removed the case to federal court in Tacoma. J.W., et al. v. Pierce County, et al., No. 09-cv-05430. In March 2010 the court certified the class, and a settlement was reached with defendants. The court-ordered monitoring of the Settlement Agreement began later in 2010, and after several years of review, the monitor found defendants to be in substantial compliance with the settlement agreement, and the case was automatically terminated in September 2013.
It is well recognized that education is linked to lower recidivism rates and that positive programming opportunities are directly correlated with improved safety and security in jail settings. Also, every major correctional association –including the American Correctional Association, National Commission on Correctional Health Care, American Jail Association, and National Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators—recommends against housing youth with adults due to safety and security concerns. Beyond the fact that this case affirmed detained youth’s right to an education while in custody, the decision in this case was important because it resulted in Pierce County’s decision to transfer all youth under age 18 from the Pierce County Jail to Remann Hall, a juvenile detention center where educational services were already available to detained youth.