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News / Northwest

Washington suspends intakes at two youth detention centers

By Grace Deng, Washington State Standard
Published: July 9, 2024, 6:09pm

Washington will temporarily stop taking in sentenced youth at two juvenile detention facilities as the state struggles with overcrowding at the sites, officials said Saturday.

Juvenile offenders recently sentenced will remain in a county facility until the population at Green Hill School in Chehalis reaches “safe and sustainable capacity levels,” said the Department of Children, Youth and Families. The agency believes that “could take months.”

“When too many young people are concentrated in small spaces it can escalate behaviors and limit the ability for therapeutic rehabilitation,” said Ross Hunter, the department’s secretary, in a news release. “Our facilities must be safe, therapeutic, and functional.”

Green Hill and Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie are the state’s only two medium and maximum security facilities for juvenile offenders. The department said young people entering its juvenile facilities outnumbered releases over the last year, and sentences are getting longer.

Hunter has notified juvenile, adult and tribal courts across the state of the decision, the release said. Counties will receive funding from the state to support the costs of housing and incarcerating juveniles through “current contractual relationships,” said Department of Children, Youth and Families spokesperson Nancy Gutierrez.

Counties will be responsible for schooling and other programming, Gutierrez said.

Green Hill’s population is about 30% above capacity, jumping from 150 youth in January 2023 to 240 in June 2024, the agency said. Echo Glen, which houses boys from ages 11 to 17 and girls and women from 12 to 25 years old, isn’t built to house older adult males.

The agency decided to freeze intakes to both facilities because young people move from Echo Glen to Green Hill at 17 years old, Gutierrez said, and Echo Glen has also seen an increase in population.

The suspension doesn’t include plans to release any juveniles early, although the department said it’s been transferring eligible young people to a minimum-security option to try to deal with the rising population. As for long-term solutions, the department is putting together proposals for the Legislature to consider when lawmakers return in January.

The agency is also sending contracted security staff to both facilities and additional headquarters staff to Green Hill to address staffing concerns. Gutierrez said the agency will manage and prioritize intakes through a waitlist once the suspension is lifted, but doesn’t know at this time how the agency will prioritize who receives placements in the state’s facilities.

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