Youths with developmental disabilities who end up in juvenile detention aren't getting the help they need, said Sharon Paradis, Benton Franklin Juvenile Court administrator.
But state Sen. Jerome Delvin introduced a bill that would address the problem.
"By failing to properly classify juvenile defendants with developmental disabilities, we are putting both the child and correctional officers at risk of unnecessary harm," said Delvin, R-Richland, who is a former police officer.
The Senate unanimously passed bill SSB 5097 this week, and it has gone to the House.
As proposed, it would see a work group created at the state level to develop recommendations for the Legislature to provide alternatives in the juvenile justice system for dealing with developmentally disabled youths.
The bill could lead to changes regarding:
- Confinement in juvenile detention.
- Alternatives for the criminal justice system.
- Specialized training for law enforcement and correctional officers.
- Adopting a method for screening to identify juveniles with the most common types of developmental disabilities.
"It's a statewide issue," said Paradis, who spent a year studying the problem before asking for Delvin's help.
Paradis said she first learned of the issue at a Washington Developmental Disabilities Council meeting.
"There's not a lot of opportunities up front to identify those youth (who end up being taken into custody for serious offenses)," she said.
There is a process for identifying youths with mental health issues, but not for those who are developmentally disabled, Paradis said. Eventually, a psychological evaluation finds they are incompetent to stand trial, and then they are released without treatment.
Frequently, they reoffend and go back into custody, only to cycle through again without getting help.
"That was alarming to me," she said.
"We need to have the right people at the table to talking about the issue, what the resources are, what is missing and the alternatives for the court," Paradis said.
Delvin said he is encouraged that his bill sailed through the Senate, and is hopeful it will do well as it wends through several House committees.