Grays Harbor County in Washington agreed to pay damages and make policy changes after a suit challenged its use of solitary confinement in juvenile detention centers.
According to U.S. News, the lawsuit was originally filed by a local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in March.
The organization provided legal counsel to the mother of a teenage boy who’d been repeatedly placed in solitary for relatively minor infractions. Some of his offenses were as simple as “talking back” to authorities or leaving a small glob of toothpaste on his door.
After being removed from his cell and placed alone, the 17-year old says he wasn’t given adequate food or provided cleanly surroundings.
In court, the ACLU said the punishment was cruel and unusual.
“This settlement sends a strong message to counties across the state that their policies and practices cannot violate the constitutional rights of youth in detention,” said ACLU attorney Nancy Talner. “Solitary confinement is inhumane. Longstanding research shows it profoundly harms children, so were shocked to find it being used in a juvenile detention facility in Washington routinely, repeatedly, and for a prolonged period of time.”
Per the terms of the settlement, Greys Harbor County is due to pay $45,000. The local government is charged with creating and instating new policies for its juvenile detention centers, too.
Despite settling, the County wouldn’t admit any wrongdoing.
However, Greys Harbor did agree to amend its solitary policies to adhere to those of the State Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration. U.S. News notes that the changes would include a revision in when solitary confinement can be used and the length of its duration.
Facilities would also be responsible for ensuring that children locked-up alone would have access to adequate food and clean bathrooms.
Throughout his stay in the local detention center, the 17-year old was placed in solitary confinement some 40 times.
Some of the offenses which merited the punishment included swearing, passing notes, and spilling water.
Staff would confine him to his room for periods of up to 24 hours. But in other cases, conditions were far worse.
“During one 8-day stretch, he was locked in a padded cell that was spattered with food and blood, with a feces-covered grate over a hole in the ground that had been used as a toilet, and was given only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water,” said the ACLU.
The County Superior Court judge who oversees juvenile detention policies, Dave Edwards, acknowledge the wrongdoing. But he said the boy was locked in the padded room for five days and four nights – not eight – and had suspended the two employees responsible for 30 and 7 days, respectively, without pay.
“It was a violation of our policy,” said Edwards. “I didn’t need to get sued by the ACLU to know that.”
Edwards, between disputing many of the ACLU’s findings, said the new policies being implemented weren’t any stricter than those which had already been in place.
But KOMO News notes that ACLU attorney David Whedbee, who worked on the case, said policy changes weren’t superficial. Among the most important changes included restrictions on staff’s ability to keep kids in solitary any longer than necessary, as well as checking in on detainees confined to their rooms for more than an hour.