The King County Council decided on Tuesday to not officially accept a new report regarding youth solitary confinement at the county jails. The decision will delay and could possibly turn into a denial of $100,000 that the council had previously pledged to give to the county’s jail system.
The $100,000 payment was conditional on the council receiving two reports from the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) detailing how the council’s ban on youth solitary confinement was being implemented. Executive Dow Constantine’s office produced both of the required reports, but the second report found that the law was not being fully implemented and youth were still routinely being put in solitary confinement. For that reason, the council’s Law and Justice Committee decided to not hand over that $100,000.
“We are still keeping the hold on the $100,000 until we go further down the road on this matter,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, chair of the committee.
The troubling report has generated outrage in Seattle's criminal justice committee since The Stranger broke news about it last week. Protestors from the No New Youth Jail movement expressed anger over the report at Tuesday's meeting.
The delay on handing over the funds to the jail system might end up being largely symbolic. The council said they plan to require additional independent reports tracking the ban on solitary confinement. The council may end up paying the $100,000 after the jail system agrees to further reporting.
Tuesday’s hearing involved a tense round of questioning between the council, the jail staff, and Constantine’s staff, which included Shannon Braddock, Constantine’s deputy chief of staff, and Pam Jones, the Juvenile Division director at DAJD. Braddock told the council that she felt the monitor’s report did not clearly make the distinction between youth that were held at the county’s youth jail, and the youth that were moved to the county’s adult detention facilities.
“I do think the monitor’s report is unclear in certain areas, whether it is youth under the age of 18 or whether it’s the youth that are between the ages of 18 and 21 in adult facilities,” Braddock said.
But the county’s ban on youth solitary confinement applies to youth regardless of which facility they are held in, which led Councilmember Rod Dembowski to take issue Braddock’s comment.
“With all due respect, Shannon, the ordinance doesn’t distinguish which facility. Regardless of where the juvenile is... the ban on solitary applies,” Dembowski said.
Dembowski went on to ask Braddock a direct question—does Constantine think his office is in compliance with the ban? Braddock responded: “We do feel that we are meeting the intent of the ordinance to change the policies, to change the times in which restrictive housing can be used specific to those youth.” And Dembowski finished with his own response: “Respectfully, I don’t think you’ve answered the question. It’s a yes or no question.”
I reached out to Constantine’s office to see if they had any further response to Dembowski’s question. Alex Fryer, a spokesperson for Constantine's office, responded with this statement:
"This is a work in progress. We are implementing the many requirements of the Ordinance, and continue to encounter many challenges—operational, facility-based, and labor-based—that we are working through."