Inmate intake suspended at Echo Glen, Green Hill

Overcrowding at the youth detention centers creates safety concerns for staff and offenders.

The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) has suspended the intake of juvenile offenders at its youth detention centers to “stabilize a rising population that is compromising the safety of staff and young people.”

DCYF will lift the suspensions at Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie and Green Hill School in Chehalis once their populations reach a “sustainable level,” which could take months, according to a press release. The suspensions were effective July 5.

In the meantime, offenders will remain in a county facility.

“When too many young people are concentrated in small spaces, it can escalate behaviors and limit the ability for therapeutic rehabilitation,” DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter said. “This was not sustainable. Our facilities must be safe, therapeutic and functional.”

Echo Glen and Green Hill operate as the only DCYF juvenile rehabilitation centers in the state and house the highest-risk youth to 25-year-olds who have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to custody.

DCYF said Green Hill filled up faster than expected and is operating at 30% over capacity.

“Green Hill experienced an influx of young people entering [juvenile rehabilitation] that outnumbered releases each week, which along with longer sentences is causing a rise in population,” DCYF wrote. “The population at Green Hill went from 150 in January 2023 to 240 in June 2024.”

Nancy Gutierrez, the communications administrator for DCYF, wrote that Echo Glen’s population is now at a total capacity of 112 inmates.

Contracted security staff have been deployed to both facilities as DCYF works to explore options for expanding their medium security footprint and prepares to present them in the next legislative session.

Steven Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, called the suspension “wholly unacceptable” in a July 6 press release.

“WASPC calls on the state to promptly resolve this issue through any necessary executive or legislative action. It is wholly unacceptable to simply stop accepting juveniles who have been sentenced, through due process, for often very violent crimes,” Strachan wrote. “The state’s overcrowding problem in Juvenile Rehabilitation Centers has been known for some time, and not taking responsibility for the housing of offenders places the public at further risk.”

He went on to suggest the “common sense emergency option” of transferring Green Hill’s 18- to 25-year-old inmates to the Department of Corrections for incarceration in adult facilities to lessen overcrowding.

While the suspension stands, DCYF will provide funding for juvenile offenders to remain at county facilities and plans to maintain a waitlist to prioritize and manage future intakes at Echo Glen and Green Hill.