Yesterday, United States District Court Judge Lauren King gave final approval of a settlement of a federal class action lawsuit. The settlement will compensate 76 people who were illegally held in solitary confinement in King County’s adult jails as children or young adults.
King County had previously agreed to ban solitary confinement of children in all King County detention facilities and to prohibit the placement of children in adult detention facilities as part of a prior settlement. However, King County has not yet compensated children and youth whom it injured through its illegal use of solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement is potentially dangerous for anyone, but especially harmful for children and young adults, who are still developing physically, psychologically, and socially. Until 2018, King County held some children at the Maleng Regional Justice Center and the downtown King County jail while they awaited trial. Children held at these adult jails were at times held in solitary confinement for days, weeks, or months. On many occasions, they would not be allowed out of their cells for days at a time.
King County held very few girls in the adult jails. Since federal law prohibits King County from housing children and adults in the same cell block, any girl held at an adult jail was generally held in solitary confinement during her entire incarceration. Maryanne Atkins, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, spent over 40 days alone in solitary as a child. She was primarily held in a cell at the infirmary of the downtown jail. She often received no time out of her cell in any given day and had little interaction with other human beings. Maryanne was later transferred to a juvenile detention facility. However, she was transferred back to the adult jail after she turned 18. As an 18-year-old at the jail, she spent more time in solitary confinement in violation of law that King County passed in 2017 in response to an earlier case, C.S. v. King County.
“This was a horrible time in my life. I spent days alone with nothing to do. I could hear other people screaming and shouting at all hours of the day and night, but I had no one I could actually talk with,” Maryanne said. “I am grateful for the settlement, but I still think about what happened to me all the time.”
King County held Patrick Tables, another lead plaintiff, in solitary confinement for more than 6 months. At times he was allowed out of his small cell for an hour only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays or a mere 3 hours per week. Even when he was out of his cell, he was alone in a dayroom or small recreation yard. “Solitary confinement really messes with your mind. You have no one to talk to and just four walls to keep you company,” Patrick said. “I’m glad that King County won’t be able to do this to kids anymore. But no one should be held in solitary no matter how old they are.”
Today’s settlement will require the County to pay for the more than 2,700 total days of solitary that the youth collectively lived through. The settlement provides financial compensation of $500 for each day and prorated for each partial day King County illegally held a class member in solitary confinement, for a total settlement to the Class of $1,357,665. Class members will receive different amounts from the settlement depending on the number of days they were subject to solitary.
Columbia Legal Services (CLS) represented the class in this case. “Solitary confinement is widely recognized by experts to be a form of torture. We are happy we were able to reach this resolution with the County. We cannot undo the injustices that have occurred, but I hope that the settlement provides some level of relief for some of the people who were injured,” CLS attorney Alison Bilow said in response to the settlement. “Unfortunately, many older people remain held in solitary confinement. We hope that King County and all other jurisdictions will end the inhumane practice of solitary confinement, once and for all, for people of all ages.”
Alison Bilow, Attorney
(206) 287-8610, email@example.com
Adriana Hernandez, Communications
(509) 374-9336, firstname.lastname@example.org