ACLU-WA Files Lawsuit Against King County Alleging Violation of Longstanding Settlement Agreement Governing Conditions at the King County Correctional Facility

News Release: 
Friday, February 24, 2023
SEATTLE – The ACLU of Washington (ACLU-WA) filed a lawsuit against King County today in Pierce County Superior Court alleging violations of a Settlement Agreement that governs conditions, including access to medical care and court, for individuals incarcerated in the King County Correctional Facility (KCCF).

In the last year, community members and journalists have raised concerns about the conditions in KCCF. Present limitations on medical and mental health care are believed to be out-of-compliance with both the Settlement Agreement and National Commission on Correctional Health Care’s standards. Some treatment needs are not being assessed in a timely manner and individuals incarcerated at KCCF are often without transportation to outside medical appointments. ACLU-WA also believes that staffing requirements per the Settlement Agreement are not being adhered to, creating an unsafe situation for an already vulnerable incarcerated population.

Additionally, in light of high suicide rates at the jail, there is great concern about ongoing mental health assessment, treatment, and out-of-cell time for those living in isolation units.

“It is clear that the health and safety of people incarcerated at KCCF are being put at grave risk because of decisions made by King County officials. It is also clear that they are in violation of the Hammer Settlement Agreement,” said John Midgely, Senior Staff Attorney at ACLU-WA, who was also one of the attorneys to file the original lawsuit.

The lawsuit stems from a Settlement Agreement between ACLU-WA and King County regarding jail conditions. In 1989, ACLU-WA and Evergreen Legal Services — which is now Columbia Legal Services — brought a class action lawsuit against the jail on behalf of people who were incarcerated and the King County Corrections Guild. The lawsuit sought to improve medical care, safety from assaults, and other improvements in jail conditions.

The lawsuit was settled in 1998 and an agreement, known as the Hammer Settlement Agreement, was established. King County agreed to remedy overcrowding, poor medical care, and inadequate staffing at its jail – the first of several successful ACLU lawsuits over conditions at county jails.

Over the last year, the ACLU received a number of complaints and concerns about the conditions in KCCF. It soon became clear that the County was out of compliance with the Hammer Settlement Agreement. These issues included staffing challenges, transportation to court, delays in mental health and medical treatment, and transportation to outside medical appointments.

ACLU-WA responded to the County, noting conditions in the facility indicate that the Hammer Settlement Agreement is being violated in a way that dangerously impacts the health and safety of people incarcerated in the jail. ACLU-WA and King County underwent meet and confer sessions and mediation, which were not successful. Today, ACLU-WA filed an action in Pierce County to enforce the Hammer Settlement Agreement.

“The County is failing to adequately and safely care for those in their custody. We hope that enforcing the Hammer Settlement Agreement will provide some relief and protection for our community members who are incarcerated at KCCF,” said La Rond Baker, Legal Director at ACLU-WA.

The ACLU-WA is represented by ACLU Legal Director, La Rond Baker, ACLU Senior Staff Attorney John Midgely, ACLU Staff Attorney Jazmyn Clark, and Cooperating Attorney, Salvador A. Mungia of Gordon Thomas Honeywell.
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