Overdoses, crime in state-run facility; ‘That place should not be open’

A state-run youth detention center has come under fire as fentanyl continues to make its way to teens and young adults housed inside.

The Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) runs the Lewis County facility known as Green Hill and tells FOX 13 that changes have been implemented. However, January saw a number of suspected fentanyl overdoses, along with two instances where employees were caught bringing drugs inside the facility.

One incident involved an employee who brought weed-infused gummies to work, and placed them in a locker where residents can "purchase" candy as part of a reward system for good behavior.

Despite a colorful marijuana logo, and text reading "not for kids" on the packaging, the employee walked them into the facility. The employee, according to a Chehalis Police report, contends that it was an accident. Though, it’s unclear how security missed the item as it entered the facility.

READ MORE: DCYF downplays youth overdoses at Green Hill school as fentanyl floods in

Former employees tell FOX 13 that it’s hard to be shocked after what they saw while working inside the facility.

"They don’t care, they don’t," said Darwin, a former guard and counselor.

Darwin recounted how residents inside of Green Hill would ‘fish’ for employees who were willing to purchase drugs. He rebuffed approaches and encouraged others to do the same.

"Kids come to me, ‘Hey, can you bring in drugs for us?’ ‘No.’ ‘You’ll be highly compensated…’ and I’m like, ‘No, I won’t,’ because I won’t do it," said Darwin.

Current employees seem to think residents have successfully reeled in someone, as drugs—including meth and fentanyl—continue to make it inside Green Hill. A police report from January of this year revealed that two employees suspected their own co-workers were involved in drugs, telling an officer that contraband was likely "being smuggled in by a staff member or members."

"Nothing is really changing," said State Senator John Braun. "That’s the really maddening part to me. That it can be this bad and nobody is doing anything about it on the state-level, that should be unacceptable."

Braun has been vocal in calling for an investigation into what’s taking place inside of Green Hill. 

He told FOX 13 that DCYF has had conversations with his office in recent months, but he’s skeptical about how much information is being made available.

Braun isn’t the only one that’s called for an investigation into DCYF and its handling of Green Hill. In early 2023, the head of Lewis County’s Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team, or JNET, requested that Governor Inslee direct the Attorney General’s office to open an investigation.

That request that was denied.

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"It needs to be transparent," said Braun. "There’s a dozen different ways you can investigate this. The fact is, from my perspective, it’s not happening."

Governor Inslee’s office has declined requests to sit down for an interview in the wake of FOX 13 News’ recent reporting on drug overdoses, arrests of staff members and questions surrounding the overall safety of the facility.

Questions about Inslee’s faith in the department's leadership remain unanswered.

Instead, a spokesperson said two issues have created systemic challenges: security risks associated with serving young adults up to the age of 25 in Green Hill, and the availability of fentanyl across Washington.

"More work is necessary to understand the most effective way to keep Green Hill residents and staff safe while continuing to provide the rehabilitation services that put young people on a path to recovery," a statement read.

"I think it’s a bunch of crap," said Darwin. "It’s a bad environment, that place should not be open."

Darwin noted that a resident died by suicide, another was shot by police, another was arrested for murder, while yet another was involved in a drive-by where they used a gun provided by a former Green Hill employee.

Gavin McGregor, a former Green Hill resident, in a Spokane courtroom facing a murder charge.

"What are we doing?" Braun asked. "If we are the juvenile rehabilitation administration, why are people getting out and committing the same crimes? What are we doing to help residents become productive citizens?"

As for DCYF, they told FOX 13 News that reforms are necessary, including further analysis of their security infrastructure, substance abuse treatment and training for staff.

"This is DCYF’s work, and we know it will take collaboration," a spokesperson said in a written statement, refusing to make any members of leadership available to speak with FOX 13 in-person.

Legislators like Braun, and former employees like Darwin, tell FOX 13 News that tweaks are not enough. They both described the need for transparency, while noting that there is hope that the current outcry and spotlight on the continuing issues could force a change.