Governor signs new law — sponsored by Peterson — to prohibit solitary confinement of youths

Rep. Strom Peterson

Juvenile holding facilities may no longer subject teens to solitary confinement, except in extraordinary circumstances, under a law signed Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“Solitary confinement is damaging to youth. It traumatizes them and hinders their ability to learn, grow and reintegrate into society,” said 21st District Rep. Strom Peterson of Edmonds, the sponsor of House Bill 2277. “Subjecting kids to solitary confinement is nothing short of torture. Its end is way past due.”

The 21st District includes parts of Edmonds and Lynnwood.

Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), who sponsored matching legislation and shepherded Peterson’s bill to passage in the Senate, said a study of suicides in juvenile facilities revealed half of all suicides occurred while in isolation and 62 percent of the youth had experienced solitary confinement.

“Studies show that using solitary confinement to improve behavior accomplishes exactly the opposite,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn). “Instead of reducing violence and assaults on staff and youth, solitary confinement makes things worse. It is an outdated and misguided practice that inflicts serious, lasting harm.”

The new law:

  • Limits the use of isolation to only emergency conditions, with strict guidelines for time and placement;
  • Requires institutions to document any use of isolation or room confinement; and
  • Establishes a process for the creation of model policies to follow when the use of isolation, room confinement, or less restrictive alternatives is deemed appropriate.

The legislation aligns Washington with 10 states — including the nation’s two largest, California and Texas — that have passed laws to ban or limit solitary confinement for juveniles. When the state of Ohio reduced the use of solitary confinement by more than 88 percent in 2015, institutional violence decreased by more than 20 percent.

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