Officials hold roundtable meeting to discuss improvements at Echo Glen

Meeting was held last month by County Councilmember Sarah Perry and Snoqualmie Mayor Katherine Ross

After seven inmates escaped from the Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie earlier this year, officials are looking to shore up security and communication in the event of a another escape.

Last month, Snoqualmie Mayor Katherine Ross and King County Councilmember Sarah Perry hosted Echo Glen’s superintendent, law enforcement, agency leaders and state legislators for a roundtable discussion at Snoqualmie City Hall.

The meeting comes after Echo Glen has seen a pair of high-profile escapes over the last 18 months. In May, seven teenage-inmates escaped Echo Glen after assaulting a staff member and stealing a vehicle. A similar escape involving five inmates happened in January 2022.

No civilians were harmed in either outbreak, but one 17-year-old inmate, who was involved in both escapes, was serving time for first-degree murder.

Echo Glen, located near Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, is a medium-maximum security rehabilitation center primarily serving residents age 17 and under. It’s one of Washington’s two primary juvenile residential facilities alongside the Green Hill School in Chehalis.

A handful of escapes have happened at Echo Glen over the last few years, but inmates are often apprehended not long after leaving the facility.

The two recent escapes are notable for being the first instances to involve a stolen vehicle, former Snoqualmie Police Chief Perry Phipps said last year. During the most recent escape, some inmates made it to Vancouver, Wash. before being apprehended.

“In all of those [other] instances there was never a vehicle taken,” Phipps told the city’s Public Safety Committee. “In one case, they barely got out of the parking lot.”

Echo Glen, while in close proximity to Snoqualmie, is under the jurisdiction of the King County Sheriff’s Office. In the event of an escape, sheriff’s deputies are the first law enforcement officers to be contacted.

Snoqualmie Police are typically notified immediately after the sheriff’s office as part of an agreement with Echo Glen’s superintendent, Phipps said. But during the 2022 escape, that alert was delayed ten minutes, he said.

“That concerned me some,” Phipps said. “There is a need for Snoqualmie PD to know because we have residential neighborhoods in close proximity to Echo Glen.”

Incidents at Echo Glen had become more frequent in the past few years, King County Undersheriff Jesse Anderson said at the roundtable discussion, noting a need for a more cohesive and coordinated response.

Yet, Anderson noted a need for caution when responding to escapes. Taking an armed approach toward youth is not always the best path to resolution, he said. Involving behavioral health services may be a “more optimal first approach,” he said.

The Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), which run Echo Glen, received $8 million from the state this year to make improvements to facility safety.

Upgrades include a new single-point of entry perimeter fence, an improved front gate as well as additional campus lighting and surveillance. A new superintendent was also expected to start in early July.

Still, improvements have lagged behind, failing to keep up with staff turnover and changes in inmate populations, said Felice Upton, assistant secretary of juvenile rehabilitation for DCYF and a former superintendent of Echo Glen.

“Safety and security are our top priorities,” she said. “We can’t focus on rehabilitation without keeping our staff, residents, and community safe.”

Mayor Ross requested Echo Glen staff continue to host future monthly meetings with those at the roundtable to continue discussions.

Echo Glen countered with an offer to host smaller Critical Incident Review meetings to examine the recent escapes and review the 911 process and protocols. Additionally, DCYF plans to host a follow up meeting in late August with a focus on larger policy and operational issues.