You don’t have to be 18 to go to jail in Pierce County.
Under a recent change, 16- and 17-year-olds facing trial on adult charges are being housed at the jail downtown, instead of the local juvenile detention facility, Remann Hall.
Remann Hall has housed such teenagers for a couple of years, but the county recently decided the system wasn’t working, and in October switched back to housing many of them at the jail under a new agreement.
Determined on a case-by-case basis, up to seven adult-status boys can be housed at Remann Hall, Juvenile Court Administrator TJ Bohl said. That depends on factors such as their behavior and their alleged crimes. The rest now go to the jail.
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Recently six were at the jail, in an area separate from the adult inmates, and two were at the juvenile facility.
Girls still are housed exclusively at Remann Hall.
The arrangement is similar to one used in past years.
The jail used to house youths charged as adults, but in November 2014, Remann Hall agreed to start taking them. Bohl said there were two such teens at the time, and the juvenile facility could accommodate them.
But then the number spiked to 22 kids charged as adults, twice the number charged as juveniles, he said.
“It just really changed our whole rehabilitative environment,” Bohl said. “... We weren’t staffed for having that many.”
The past couple years he’s seen more fights, lockdowns and contraband at Remann Hall.
“When the juvenile facility starts to lose some of its rehabilitative emphasis, that’s a concern,” he said.
To fix that, officials at both facilities in October signed a new memorandum of understanding that limited the number of adult-status kids Remann Hall can house, and ordered the current adult-status youths moved to the jail.
Among those teens was Dakota Collins, who was 16 when prosecutors accused him and six others of fatally shooting a man during a robbery May 18 in Parkland.
Prosecutors said Collins shot 38-year-old Lorenzo Parks when he turned out his pockets to show the group he had nothing for them to take.
Because of Collins’ age and the seriousness of the alleged crime — first-degree murder — he was charged as an adult, and initially held at Remann Hall. Now he awaits trial at the jail.
He recently asked the court to send him back to Remann Hall. His attorney argued that, at the jail, Collins wasn’t getting the education required by law, and that he is suffering from isolation at the jail.
Prosecutors said that’s not the case, and that it wasn’t safe to have juveniles charged as Collins is at Remann Hall, where they are intermingled with youths accused of less-serious crimes.
Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson agreed Collins needs classes at the jail, but sided with prosecutors and ruled Nov. 22 that the teen will stay downtown.
“Courts have given prison and jail administrators great deference in determining policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security,” the judge wrote in his order.
In response to Collins’ request to move back, deputy prosecutor Grace Kingman wrote to the court that at one point pills and marijuana brownies were smuggled into the juvenile facility during family visits.
Those “could just as easily have been weapons or something that could be converted into a weapon,” she wrote.
Collins’ family weren’t responsible for that, but Kingman argued in her filing that it showed “why contact visits are inappropriate for individuals charged with murder in the first degree.”
Family visits are one of the big differences between Remann Hall and the jail, Collins said in a recent interview with The News Tribune.
At the juvenile facility, he said, he could play with his little brother during visits. They’d make toy cars zoom around with dominoes on top.
At the jail they’re separated by glass.
“I want to be able to hug my family,” the teen said.
Another difference is school, which at Remann Hall is taught on computers, with other students and a teacher in the room.
At the jail, schoolwork is done on paper packets, and includes about an hour a day with a teacher.
Collins and one other youth are in class together.
At first, Collins didn’t have daily instruction at the jail, instead getting a packet of work without teacher time.
In his Nov. 22 order, Cuthbertson wrote that he was concerned that Collins’ right to public education was being violated and that the education he was getting was inadequate.
The judge noted that the jail was working with Tacoma Public Schools to fix the situation, and a couple weeks ago jail classes started.
“I think when the judge said that the educational requirements were not being met, they realized they needed to get on the ball and do something,” said Collins’ attorney, Sunni Ko.
Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said a long-term agreement with the jail was in the works, and that the district has assigned a teacher to the jail in the meantime.
It’s not the first time the issue of educating teens in the jail has come up in court.
In his order, Cuthbertson referred to a case in which two 17-year-old inmates sued the county, Tacoma Public Schools and the state superintendent of Public Instruction in 2009. The boys alleged they weren’t provided teachers, classes or any educational services until their attorneys raised the issue.
The parties settled the lawsuit by agreeing to go forward with an education plan.
As for being in jail instead of juvenile detention, Collins said the jail feels more isolated, but having fewer kids around has helped him focus.
“If I want to make something of myself, I have to get an education,” he said.
He said he’s acing quizzes. Before his arrest in June, he said, he hadn’t been in school for several months.
Still, he said, he missed the counseling services he got at Remann Hall, and said socially the jail is difficult.
He spends about four hours a day out of his cell with the same teenager he’s in class with. Outside that, he’s generally not supposed to talk to his neighbors, he said.
He described Remann Hall staff members as being less strict, and said they even gave kids extra food sometimes for their birthdays.
That didn’t happen at the jail when Collins turned 17 on Oct. 23.
“You get in trouble here real quick,” he said.