Washington State


In Jan. 2019, a report from the independent monitor assigned to assess King County’s compliance with a City Ordinance banning solitary confinement found that the county was still using solitary confinement on youth in county jails. The county passed a ban on solitary confinement for youth in 2017 (see below). Despite the county Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) proposed Policy #6.03.011, designed to limit solitary to emergency situations for youth in adult facilities, the monitor’s report found that eight youth were held in “the hole” 15 times between July and November 2018 and the county failed to document why solitary confinement was used, how long it lasted, and what alternatives were attempted. The report also contains statements from young people. Many of these youth were being detained pretrial, meaning that they had not been found guilty of a crime. By continuing the use of solitary confinement on youth, King County also risks failing to comply with a settlement reached in 2018 as part of litigation over the use of solitary brought by Columbia Legal Services in 2017 (see below).


According to a federal lawsuit, C.S. v. King County, filed by Columbia Legal Services in October 2017, the King County Jail or Maleng Regional Justice Center (RJC) in Kent, which holds some youth charged as adults, places youth — especially those with disabilities — in solitary confinement. These young people are held in cells on an isolation unit for 23 or 24 hours a day for weeks or months at a time.  Youth have no access to programming, treatment, or education. Notably, almost 90% of youth held at the RJC and charged as adults are youth of color. In 2018, the County reached a $240,000 settlement agreement in the litigation which significantly limits the ability of the County to place any youth in solitary confinement.


On December 11, 2017, the King County Council voted unanimously in favor of legislation to ban solitary confinement “in all King County detention facilities, except when based on the juvenile’s behavior, solitary confinement is necessary to prevent imminent and significant physical harm to the juvenile detained or to others and less restrictive alternatives were unsuccessful.” Ordinance 18637 explicitly prohibits isolation as punishment or isolation lasting longer than 24 hours. On November 2, the City Council signed Executive Order 2017-0473, which prevents youth tried as adults from being housed in the adult jail effective March 1, 2018.

The ordinance calls for strict monitoring of those youth placed in solitary confinement and requests the county to engage an independent monitor to report on the implementation of the requirements. On December 3, 2018, the Council reviewed the first report from an independent monitor, which found that staff disciplined youth of color at higher rates than white youth. In March 2019, an independent monitor’s report found that solitary was still being used, especially in King County jails (see above). To view more on the history of the issue, visit the King County Council’s website.


The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington brought a lawsuit against Grays Harbor County, alleging that a 16-year old was held in solitary confinement multiple times totaling 75 days, almost always as punishment for “bad behavior.” Read the complaint. Between 2013 and 2016, the child was repeatedly held in Grays Harbor County Juvenile Detention Facility for minor probation violations. He was held in a padded cell or isolation room for at least 23 hours a day with only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The child was not permitted visits from his mother and, on at least one occasion, was held in a room, “spattered with food and blood, with a feces-covered grate over a hole in the ground to use for a toilet.”

This is not the first time that the county has been called out for subjecting children to solitary confinement. In December 2016, the ACLU sued the county for production of records and policies following reports that a 15-year-old boy was placed in solitary confinement at the Grays Harbor County Juvenile Detention Facility for eight days in 2015. Two directors from the county’s juvenile detention facility were suspended after the child was kept in isolation and “only allowed out of his cell to shower and for one hour of recreation per day.” In 2015, the Grays Harbor County commissioners agreed to settle the public records lawsuit and the records request was eventually filled by the county.