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Understaffing leads to safety problems at King County juvenile detention, draft report finds

caption: King County's juvenile justice center in Seattle, pictured on Aug. 7, 2023.
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King County's juvenile justice center in Seattle, pictured on Aug. 7, 2023.
KUOW Photo/Ann Dornfeld

An outside review of King County juvenile detention found staffing issues are leading to safety problems for youths and workers.

The county commissioned the safety and security analysis following a sharp uptick in assaults by young people at the jail.

In draft recommendations issued July 31, consultants found that ongoing staffing shortages, a lack of structure, and interrupted programming lead to behavior problems and fights at the jail.

The draft report was issued just days after a youth fight at the Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center sent seven staff members to the hospital.

RELATED: Seven staffers injured in youth brawl at King County juvenile detention facility

Jason Smith, a representative of the Juvenile Detention Guild, which includes corrections officers at the jail, welcomed the recommendations.

“The guild and the staff have been trying for several years to improve conditions in the juvenile detention center," Smith said.

"We’ve always seen safety as our number one concern, because if we don’t have a safe environment, then we don’t have staff. If we don’t have staff, then we’re not able to properly monitor and program the youth.”

Smith added that after last week's fight, many staff were out and many classes for youth at the facility were canceled.

A county spokesperson declined to comment on the draft report.

More than one-fifth of juvenile detention officer positions are unfilled at present, and King County is offering hiring bonuses of up to $25,000.

Staff need more training about how to anticipate and respond to violence at the facility, consultants found, and youth need more opportunities for exercise rather than just "horseplay."

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