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Teens in adult jail violates civil rights, Seattle lawsuit contends

Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, Washington.
Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, Washington.

A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a group of four young people currently being detained at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

The teens are charged as adults.

The lawsuit, filed in King County District Court by Seattle firm Columbia Legal Services, says housing teens in adult detention violates their rights under equal protection as well as their constitutional rights.

Youth justice advocates have long pressed King County for a solution.

Moving the teens was also one of the top recommendations made in a recent report requested by the county regarding the design of the new detention center and courthouse.

University of Washington School of Medicine’s Dr. Eric Trupin authored the report.  He briefed the County Council’s Law and Justice Committee about the teens' conditions of confinement Tuesday.  

“They have limited educational programs,” Trupin told the committee. “They spend between 21 and 23 hours in their cells. Their isolation lasts for up to several months. Many of them are awaiting trial and most of these young people are black and brown."

It’s a situation Trupin said can exacerbate mental illness and severely limits the possibility of rehabilitation.

Trupin wasn’t commenting on the lawsuit specifically, and in a written response the King County Executive’s office stated that on average most youth being held at the Justice Center spend about 6.5 hours a day out of their cells.

The jail houses pre-trial detainees and people serving criminal sentences. It generally houses about 900 adults.

The county says it’s looking into the complaint.