State suspends entries at Green Hill School; move ‘wholly unacceptable,’ according to Association of Police Chiefs


The Green Hill School juvenile detention center in Chehalis will temporarily suspend entries until the facility reaches “sustainable levels” of population, the state Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCFY) announced Friday afternoon.

According to DCYF, the overpopulation could take months to resolve. The move comes five years after the passage of JR to 25, which allows some offenders to serve their sentences in juvenile rehabilitation even after they become adults, took effect.

"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 in a statement Friday. "This was not sustainable. Our facilities must be safe, therapeutic and functional."

Hunter notified juvenile, adult and tribal courts across Washington in a letter that DCYF would suspend intakes at Green Hill and Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie. While the move does not mean current inmates will be released, Hunter wrote that it comes after a “spike in population” has caused a “deteriorating and dangerous situation” at the facilities.

“During this suspension, any existing contract provisions related to the acceptance of new intakes will be placed on hold,” Hunter wrote. “Other agreement provisions, including payment amounts, will remain in effect.”

Instead of being sent to either Green Hill or Echo Glen, newly sentenced offenders will remain in custody at county facilities, according to DCYF, with the department providing financial support.

In a statement Friday, Steven D. Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said law enforcement agencies across Washington have been notified of the directive.

“The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) is cooperating with a DCYF request to inform law enforcement agencies across Washington of the intake suspension,” Strachan said. “At the same time, 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. Victims of crime need to know that offenders will remain in custody.”

According to Hunter, the population at Green Hill has increased from 150 residents in 2023 to 240 residents in June 2024, which is 30% above capacity, and the facility saw considerable growth after state law allowed some minor offenders to serve their sentences at the facilities.

When two reporters from The Chronicle toured Green Hill in late March, a spokesperson said the facility housed more than 200 residents, which exceeded “best practices.”

“And I think that's one of the realities we're grappling with and beginning to unpack what that means both from infrastructure — so you see some of the security changes a period of older populations, more visitors coming, different types of visitors, spouses, others will visit older kids,” Allison Krutsinger, director of public affairs for DCYF, told the Chronicle in March.

During the tour, Krutsinger said the agency would likely make additional recommendations for funding to improve infrastructure.

State officials have previously attributed the spike in population to JR to 25, which took effect in June 2019. Billed as an avenue to reduce recidivism by Gov. Jay Inslee, the legislation required a “transformational shift in operations and facilities planning” at youth detention facilities, a spokesman for Inslee previously told The Chronicle.

“This situation is largely of the State’s own making. 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 further at risk,” Strachan said.

Strachan said the state should consider transferring non-juvenile inmates to the custody of the Department of Corrections for incarceration at adult facilities.

JR to 25 took effect in July 2019, months before COVID-19 restrictions slowed intakes in youth and adult facilities across the state, Krutsinger previously told The Chronicle. During the pandemic, Green Hill School housed between 120 and 140 residents.

According to DCYF, the department has deployed contracted security staff to both facilities and additional headquarters staff to Green Hill to add trained staff to the living units.

In addition to an uptick in population, both facilities have seen a series of high-profile staff misconduct and other security lapses in recent years.

Seven inmates — including multiple convicted of violent felonies including murder, assault and robbery — escaped from Echo Glen in May 2023. The seven were each apprehended in Western Washington within days.

At Green Hill, a staff member was arrested in March for allegedly “turning a blind eye” while two Green Hill inmates attacked another inmate in early January. The employee faces one count each of prison riot, abuse of office and fourth-degree conspiracy to commit assault.

Months earlier, a staff member was arrested for allegedly bringing controlled substances into the facility, according to the Chehalis Police Department.

While touring the facility in March, former Interim Superintendent Jason Aldana told The Chronicle the state had invested in treatment services and infrastructure improvements.

“We’ve had some staff that weren't living up to our standards and expectations,” Aldana said. “But that is not what the average staff member is here. They come in here to do a job to try to change people's lives and to make a difference in the lives of our residents and set them up for success.”

During the visit, Aldana said staff would “fight and try to make this the best place it can be. Things are gonna happen” and vowed for transparency.

“So we believe in the work that we're doing, and our staff are in the fight with it every day,” Aldana told The Chronicle.