Green Hill School officials claim security advances amid scrutiny following recent crimes

Following reports of overdoses, prison riots and staff arrests, officials say facility is headed in the right direction


Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a two-part series focused on Green Hill School in Chehalis. Look for the second installment in Tuesday’s edition of The Chronicle.

Entering Green Hill School nowadays is similar to going through airport security. Signs listing prohibited items, including cellphones, non-transparent bags, medication and drugs, are posted by the doors. All visitors and employees are asked to empty their pockets, remove their shoes and place all personal belongings in a tray that runs through a bag scanner. The security attendant then presses a randomizer button.

“If it’s red, then you go through the microwave detection (scanner),” said Green Hill School Interim Superintendent Jason Aldana, referencing the advanced body scanners Green Hill installed in early 2024.

Those who don’t go through the body scanner pass through a standard metal detector before they can enter the facility.

For the button, “random” means it will come up red about 75% of the time, up from the 20 to 40% that was programmed for the facility’s previous body scanners.

“The (state) Department of Health has issued new rules related to body scanners in carceral settings, and so these body scanners are complying with those new rules,” said Allison Krutsinger, director of public affairs for the Department of Children, Youth and Families, which manages Green Hill.

Upcoming security improvements at Green Hill School include an additional body scanner, which has been paid for but is currently on back order, and security cameras that capture footage of the outside of the facility, not just the interior. Those additional cameras should serve as a deterrent for those attempting to get contraband inside the facility through the fence, Aldana said.

The stricter protocol and additional surveillance is part of an ongoing effort to improve security at Green Hill School, a state-run maximum security facility in Chehalis for juvenile offenders.

The facility’s security protocols have been a subject of heated debate among lawmakers and local law enforcement officials over the last several months, with one side arguing an investigation into the juvenile detention center is necessary to address glaring problems and the other, which includes Gov. Jay Inslee, insisting the facility has already made significant security improvements.

The Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET) began an investigation into drugs at Green Hill School after a juvenile resident overdosed in his jail cell in November 2022, according to previous Chronicle reporting. As a result of that investigation, four Green Hill residents were charged with drug-related crimes and JNET intercepted over 1,000 suspected fentanyl pills going into Green Hill.

Local officials, including Centralia and Chehalis mayors and chiefs of police, sent a letter to the Governor’s Office asking for an investigation into Green Hill School. That request was declined, with an attorney for the governor reporting the state had “implemented changes to its security practices including the use of full body scanners and bag scanners” and had launched additional employee training, according to previous Chronicle reporting.

In August 2023, JNET detectives received tips that drug overdoses were occurring in the Green Hill facility and allegedly being handled internally rather than being referred to law enforcement. JNET detectives also learned Child Protective Services (CPS) had received information on Aug. 15, 2023, alleging that a staff member at the Green Hill facility was providing a student inmate with illegal controlled substances, according to previous Chronicle reporting.

JNET, aided by the Centralia Police Chief Stacy Denham and Chehalis Police Chief Randy Kaut, served a search warrant at Green Hill School on Aug. 31, 2023.

During the search, officers seized evidence related to the possession and distribution of illegal controlled substances dating back to 2017, none of which had been reported to law enforcement.

“I'll tell you what I told Chief Denham when he showed up with a search warrant. If he called me, I would have given him anything he wanted. I didn't need a search warrant," Aldana told a Chronicle reporter in March.

The Centralia Police Department previously stated JNET detectives reached out to Green Hill to try and recover suspected fentanyl connected to the CPS complaint, but did not hear back by Wednesday, Aug. 30.

Aldana said he met with Kaut and Chehalis Deputy Chief Matt McKnight in early September 2023 to go over a pilot system for reporting assaults and seized contraband to the Chehalis Police Department.

“We offered to have one of our staff go over there and talk about handling evidence and packaging evidence,” Kaut said, adding that Green Hill took the Chehalis Police Department up on that offer.

Green Hill’s current policy is to search all cells and common areas once a week, Aldana said. If staff find contraband, defined as anything Green Hill doesn’t allow residents to have inside the facility, staff confiscate it and bring it to the evidence lockers. There, it’s documented, reported to the Chehalis Police Department and locked in the locker.

“I’ve worked with the Chehalis police chief on what they wanted,” Aldana said, adding that Green Hill now has a procedure for destroying contraband after 30 days if the Chehalis Police Department has indicated they don’t intend to seize it.

“That way it’s not in there for years and years,” Aldana said.

Kaut confirmed Thursday that the Chehalis Police Department does regularly recover contraband that has been seized by Green Hill staff. The department also regularly receives reports of incidents within the facility, including found contraband and prison riots, which are defined as a physical altercation involving three or more inmates.

“When we receive information from Green Hill, it usually comes in packets,” Kaut said, adding that packets often include incident reports, statements and whatever evidence they have related to the incident.

“In the past, there was usually quite a time period between the time when the incident occurred and the time that we were receiving information, but that’s improved significantly,” Kaut said.

“We’ve also invited them to, whenever they get something unusual and they’re not sure whether it’s something that we would be able to investigate or not, we’ve invited them to contact us directly to find out if that’s something we would take on or whether there’s something that we could do with it,” Kaut said. “They’ve actually called us several times now about unusual situations that they weren’t sure about … so there’s a lot more communication in regards to that as well.”

Two Green Hill School staff members have been arrested this year for unrelated offenses that allegedly took place within the facility.

Aaron D. Snideman, 42, of Centralia, was arrested on Friday, Jan. 19 for allegedly bringing marijuana into the facility earlier that month. He has since pleaded not guilty to a possession of a controlled substance in a correctional facility by a non-prisoner charge and is out of custody on $5,000 bail. His case is scheduled to go to trial on April 22.

Michelle M. Goodman, 30, of Centralia, was arrested on March 11 for allegedly “turning a blind eye” while two Green Hill School inmates attacked another inmate in early January. She was released from the Lewis County Jail on $20,000 unsecured bail on Tuesday, March 12, and has since pleaded not guilty to charges of prison riot, abuse of office and fourth-degree conspiracy to commit assault. Her case is scheduled to go to trial on June 3.

In both cases, Green Hill School collected evidence, including statements and security footage, and reported the incidents to the Chehalis Police Department, which then investigated.

Progress toward improving security at Green Hill School has been made, but there is still more work to do, officials at the state’s only maximum security juvenile detention facility told The Chronicle 

Green Hill saw at least 12 prison riots — incidents where three or more inmates at a correctional  facility are involved in a physical altercation — in 2023 that have since been charged in Lewis County Superior Court, according to previous Chronicle reporting. Additionally, eight cases stemming from a JNET raid of the facility in August have since been charged in Lewis County Superior Court. At least four contraband-related incidents at Green Hill School that occurred after an Aug. 31 raid of the facility have also had hearings in Lewis County Superior Court. Several overdoses have been reported.

Regarding staffing at the facility, Aldana said, “We have some vacancies. They’re not nearly as much as some other places, although … We are constantly recruiting for officers and counselors. The more people we can get here, the more treatment we can provide (and) the more opportunities we can provide.”

Aldana added, “We want people that care about residents and care about their community and the safety of their community.”

“The most recent collective bargaining agreement that went into effect July 1, (2023) … had pretty significant classification changes, step increases and pay increases for 24/7 (incarceration facility staff), so that's made a difference,” Krutsinger said of recruiting and retention at Green Hill School.

More changes are needed though, Krutsinger said, as adult 24/7 carceral facilities still often pay more than juvenile facilities.

“More is definitely needed in that space, I think, around wage increasing steps for retention. But progress was made.”