I was disturbed to read that Grays Harbor County’s Juvenile Detention Center has subjected children to solitary confinement as punishment for ordinary misbehavior, according to the ACLU’s lawsuit against the County (“County sued over allegations of solitary confinement at juvenile facility,” The Daily World, March 15, 2017).
Upon researching the issue, I discovered another appalling fact: Grays Harbor County is one of the leading users of juvenile detention in Washington state. Children of Grays Harbor County are incarcerated at a higher per-capita rate than all but three other counties in the state. According to the most recent data available from the Washington State Center for Court Research, in 2015 Grays Harbor County Court had 659 detention admissions, a rate of 58 detention admissions per 1,000 youths. In comparison, King County had only 10 detention admissions per 1,000 youths, and Pierce County had 20 detentions per 1,000 youth.
Jail is hard on anyone, but children, especially, are most vulnerable. Separation from family and friends is particularly difficult for children. Children lack the resilience that comes with maturity and are more likely to experience mental anguish when incarcerated. Removed from their homes and deprived of emotional support, children in detention experience psychological trauma that can have lasting impact on their cognitive and social development. In addition, multiple studies have shown that incarceration doesn’t “scare kids straight.” Instead, children who are incarcerated are more likely to re-offend than those who are not confined.
When kids get into trouble, they need help and humane treatment, something they don’t find in our county. Grays Harbor County Juvenile Detention must immediately improve its treatment of every child in its care, and in the long term the County should work to completely eliminate juvenile incarceration. The research is clear: Putting kids behind bars doesn’t solve problems. It only serves to make things worse. We will all be better off in a Grays Harbor County community where caging children is both unnecessary and unknown.
Arthur (R.D.) Grunbaum