Fights, overdoses: Problems surface at Green Hill School, WA's teen detention facility

As the population held inside a Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) teen detention facility in Lewis County continues to grow, troubles have bubbled to the surface.

Over the past year, several glaring issues have emerged at Green Hill School: overdoses, brawls and misconduct by staff.

Newly obtained video footage by FOX 13 Seattle, along with police reports, depicts how dangerous things can get. In one instance, an employee was forced to lie across a resident after he took repeated kicks to the body and head.

Adrian Mendoza, 22, can be seen being kicked repeatedly while standing and while down on the ground as a swarm of people descend upon him. Some of those people are staff trying to break up the fight, others are residents trying to get into the fight.

Since late 2023, FOX 13 Seattle has highlighted a number of issues at Green Hill School – a facility for teens and young adults up to 25 years old. DCYF leadership is now opening up: they are not only taking FOX 13 inside the walls of Green Hill School for an up-close look at the changes being made, but also sitting down to answer questions for the first time.

Employee misconduct at Green Hill School

A number of recent incidents have raised concerns. Newly obtained documents indicate that a female guard was let go in late 2023, but continued to call into the facility using fake names in an attempt to contact inmates. An investigatory document indicates that the woman’s nude photos turned up in a resident’s cell.

FOX 13 Seattle has also reported on employees who brought drugs into the facility. However, the most eye-opening incident took place in March when an employee was arrested and accused of facilitating a riot.

Michelle Goodman, 30, was arrested in March, accused of turning a blind eye to a plan for residents to beat up another inmate.

Documents obtained by FOX 13 Seattle indicate there were other questions about Goodman’s conduct before that incident, including her bringing dab pens, or weed pens, into the facility.

Past employees have openly complained about a cultural issue within Green Hill School. One employee told FOX 13 Seattle, "I think people are scared to speak up."

During a sit-down interview with FOX 13 Seattle, a spokesperson said that the specific instances are a fraction of their overall staff, stating that they don’t paint the full picture. They also refuted that anyone is discouraged from speaking up.

"I don’t think Green Hill has a punitive culture," said Allison Krutsinger, public affairs director for DCYF.

"If they see something they should say something. That is our approach. We want staff, and residents that feel empowered to report instances that they feel warrant escalation. We take those seriously. We investigate personnel matters often and frequently," she added.

Drugs inside Green Hill School

Drugs inside prisons are nothing new, but Green Hill School isn’t a prison. DCYF often calls inmates "residents," and is quick to point out that they do not fall under the Department of Corrections. However, they are facing many of the same drug issues adult incarceration facilities face.

Typically, drugs come into a facility one of four ways: visitors, staff, mail or items being thrown within an exterior wall.

Green Hill School has a strict mail policy which means drugs make it past the screening process, or over perimeter fencing.

Previous reporting by FOX 13 Seattle indicated that staff blamed other workers for sneaking drugs in.

A police report from the Chehalis Police Department earlier this year indicated the depth of the issue. One investigator wrote: I was told [the workers] believe the contraband is not only coming in by being thrown over the fence but also possibly by being smuggled in by one or more staff members.

During a recent tour of Green Hill School, FOX 13 Seattle was shown several changes to the campus, including a new body scanner that screens individuals before they move onto the main campus. Additional cameras have been added to monitor people near the facility, and an interior fence now keeps residents away from areas where drugs had previously been found by workers.

"A large majority of the young people that come to us come with a history of addiction or an active addiction," said Krutsinger. "We’re taking it very seriously. So, in addition to our screening and infrastructure pieces, we’ve also really increased our harm reduction strategies."

Those strategies include training for residents and staff on how to use Narcan in case of an overdose. They’ve also introduced new treatment options, as well.

A population surge at Green Hill School

The overall number of teens and young adults held at Green Hill School has surged over the past year. That jump in people behind bars comes as the age of people being held within the walls of Green Hill has also risen.

In 2019, Governor Inslee signed new legislation known as JR to 25. It was a move that allowed juveniles who committed crimes as minors to remain within juvenile facilities until they turn 25.

Brains are not fully developed until age 25, according to research. Green Hill School, which serves individuals aged JR (juvenile rehabilitation) to 25, was designed to allow young people access to education, programming, therapeutic services, and a better chance at reentry.

However, the pandemic hit shortly after these changes were set to take place. As a result, courts processed fewer cases, leading to a temporary dip in the number of teens and young adults behind bars. In the years since, Green Hill School's population has not only rebounded but also surpassed previous numbers.

According to DCYF, plans were made to prepare for the changes. However, the current population growth is stressing the system at Green Hill School. When asked about drugs, fights, and mishaps within the facility, the overall numbers game was a common theme.

"I think what happened in the Fall and Winter of this year was a culmination of just larger numbers than anticipated on campus, coupled with continued challenges in staffing and hiring," said Krustinger.

Staffing has also been a challenge. Krustinger told FOX 13 that staffing at 24/7 facilities has become an issue.

What happens next at Green Hill School?

It is clear that Green Hill School won’t change overnight. Those involved tell FOX 13 that carceral settings are a constant work in progress.

The facility’s superintendent was excited to show our team a number of changes he’s made since the interim title was removed several months back. That included educational programming and changes to how they operate.

Our FOX 13 team witnessed an event where staff quickly converged on the school due to a fight. Shortly afterward, students were escorted out in what appeared to be zip-tie cuffs. Nothing was concealed; in fact, there was a frank discussion about the challenges faced: students need an education, yet rival gangs coexist within the same walls. Staff told us they are working hard to prevent clashes — the incident didn't derail everyday activities.

As for juvenile detention overall, DCYF said they are in the process of preparing their next budget proposal, which should give the public more insight into their plans for improving safety, programming and diversifying the settings in which residents are held.


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