Report says Echo Glen center, site of recent escape, is understaffed, underfunded

Jan 27, 2022, 6:10 PM | Updated: Jan 28, 2022, 8:47 am
Echo Glen...
Interior of Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie. (Photo courtesy of WA Dept. of Children, Youth, & Families)
(Photo courtesy of WA Dept. of Children, Youth, & Families)

After five teenagers convicted of various felonies, one of whom was found guilty of first-degree murder in 2021, broke out of and escaped from Echo Glen Children’s Center, a juvenile detention facility in Snoqualmie, questions remain as to how the escape happened and if it could have been prevented.

Third teen who escaped from youth detention center taken into custody in Kirkland

Investigators say the teens strong-armed several employees at the facility and stole a gray 2018 Ford Fusion at around 7:45 a.m. on Wednesday. The 15 year-old murder convict was apprehended by Kent Police Department on Thursday. Two other escaped teenagers are still at large following subsequent Thursday arrests in Kent and Kirkland.

A 2018 report indicates that employees of Echo Glen insist that the detention facility is short staffed. Conducted by the Hyzer Group for the Department of Social and Health Services and the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, the report provides staffing analysis of juvenile rehabilitation centers across the state, including eight community facilities for incarcerated youths and three higher security residential facilities, including Snoqualmie’s Echo Glen.

Cumulatively, it suggests that the state’s juvenile rehabilitation facilities are chronically understaffed, and calls on the state’s Legislature to appropriate additional funds to address the problem.

“There is clear agreement among all staff in all positions in the institutions and community facilities that the current staff levels are not adequate,” referencing an internal survey of staff which found that nearly 85% of Echo Glen’s 33 employees agreed that the facility was not adequately staffed “to a level that enables us to be successful.”

Among the report’s key findings is that rehabilitation counselors, due to lack of staff, are forced to portion most of their time towards supervision and security tasks, unable to provide “core residential treatment” therapy.

“Due to insufficient staffing levels, Juvenile Rehabilitation Residential Counselors [and] Juvenile Rehabilitation Counselor Assistants are not able to implement all key components of the Rehabilitation Model,” finding that “more than three quarters of their time was spent providing floor supervision, safety and security, transports, and custodial care.”

The report goes on to claim that “facilities are often unable to provide training before staff begin working directly with youth,” with the caveat that as many as 140 hours of training are required for juvenile rehabilitation counselors.

“Staff report the Dealing with Resistive Youth (DWRY) safety training or Community Safety Training is often not provided before staff begin working with youth,” the report notes. “Some staff do not receive safety training for weeks, sometimes months. On-call staff are sometimes not trained until months after they start, limiting their ability to stop and address egregious behaviors.”

“JRAs need to be fully funded and staffed – and the state legislature should make that happen before more people get hurt,” wrote a spokesperson with the union which represents juvenile rehabilitation employees, AFSCME Council 28 of the Washington Federation of State Employees.

When asked for comment Thursday on how failure to adequately fund Echo Glen might have directly or indirectly contributed to the escape of the five teenagers, Gov. Jay Inslee said he had “done some preliminary inquiries,” but that “it is way too early to make assertions that this had anything to do with staffing level, or had anything to do with training.”

“I think when something like this happens, people jump on it to try to advance their agenda,” Inslee said. “So, no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to reach a conclusion that they’ve suggested. … There is a critical incident report system that the department will use to figure out what happened here and figure out what we could do to prevent it, if anything. And we’ll get to the bottom of that, and that’ll be public.”

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Report says Echo Glen center, site of recent escape, is understaffed, underfunded