State-commissioned survey uncovers ongoing safety, staffing problems at youth detention centers

There have been at least four escapes from the Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie over the past decade. During that time, concerns about staff safety also increased.

Five teenagers who attacked staff and escaped Echo Glen on Wednesday have shed light on a bigger problem at youth detention facilities across the state. 

"Just one assault is too much and it shouldn’t happen," said an employee of Echo Glen, who asked to keep her identity private in fear of retaliation.

Washington State Department of Social and Health Services commissioned a survey in 2018 on Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration facilities. Echo Glen was one of the facilities in the study. 

When asked whether employees agreed with the statement that there was enough staffing to be successful in overseeing the juvenile detainees, nearly 60% of them said they "strongly disagree."

The Echo Glen staff member said she has been assaulted three times by teens in her care ever since she started working at the center in November 2020.

"There was a riot that happened in January 2021 and I was assaulted while I was trying to break it up," she said. "A few months go by—I got spit on by a resident and then a couple months later by that same resident I was punched in the eye. So, I had a huge black eye. And during that time it was just me and one other staff."

The Washington Federation of State Employees represents workers of Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration facilities in the state. The union said, for years, workers have been asking for facilities to be fully funded and staffed before more people get hurt.

"We’re just so short staff that all these incidents keep happening," said the employee.

The study further showed significant overtime due to high turnover, junior supervisors struggling to meet requirements due to lack of necessary training and nearly 35% of staff at Echo Glen reported they "felt unsafe" at work.

"I’ve just been trying to give the facility or the state a chance to give us more staff and to provide safety for us because I feel like the consequences for when kids assault staff is very low and that’s why it keeps happening," said the employee.

Echo Glen is operated by Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families. Following the five teenage boys’ escape, DCYF said, "We have a critical incident review team on-site to address risk immediately and determine whether safety measures and protocols were followed."

DCYF said many things have been updated since the 2018 study. Over the years, the department added automatic locks on front doors and staff doors. Plus more recreation staff and youth engagement staff were hired. Officials said escape protocols and checklists have also been updated.

DCYF said in the past day, the department has increased the following security measures:

  • Electric carts have been ordered and will begin arriving in a week. As they arrive, they will replace vehicles on campus used by security and health center staff.
  • Reminder issued that at no time will a youth or youths be released from their rooms if only a single staff is present. The second staff present must be a fully trained staff able to provide direct supervision.
  • Increase in security rounds
  • King County Sheriff’s office has increased presence near facility.
  • Facility wide searches have been completed.
  • On campus notification process has been improved. 

Read the study below or click here. 

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