Hammer v. King County: Hammer settlement Q&A

Updated: June 8, 2023
What was the original lawsuit?

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 to address overcrowding and failure to provide appropriate medical and mental health care.

When did the Settlement Agreement begin?

In 1998, settling the lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Evergreen Legal Services, 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.  

When does the Settlement Agreement expire?

The Settlement Agreement does not expire.

If ACLU-WA believes King County is out of compliance with the Settlement Agreement, what are the next steps?
The ACLU-WA and King County engaged in mediation in February 2023 because the ACLU-WA believes King County is currently out-of-compliance with the Settlement Agreement. The mediation did not resolve ACLU’s concerns and a lawsuit was filed to enforce the Settlement Agreement on February 24, 2023.

What instigated the recent mediation process?

In the last year, community members and journalists have raised concerns about the conditions in the King County Correctional Facility (KCCF). These issues included staffing challenges, transportation to court, delays in mental health and medical treatment, and transportation to 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. On February 24, 2023, ACLU-WA filed an action in Pierce County to enforce the Hammer Settlement Agreement.  

What does the Settlement Agreement require?

Broadly, the Settlement Agreement addresses a set of issues at KCCF, including overcrowding, poor medical care, access to court and medical appointments, and staffing issues. Highlighted below are key areas from the settlement:
Staffing patterns

The settlement requires the facility to maintain certain correctional staffing levels (see page 5 of the settlement document) and specifies whether the staffing is dedicated or intermittent. Dedicated staffing is a post that is always staffed except in extreme emergencies, while intermittent staffing means the post will not be staffed at all times and may be vacated for routine absences such as meals.

  • Transportation to court appearances: King County will transport all individuals who have scheduled court appearances, including those for Washington state Courts and Seattle Municipal Courts. This includes court appearances for which the Department of Adult Detention received notice of the day prior or those which occur regularly (see pages 8-9).
  • Transportation for medical care: King County will transport all individuals to medical care outside of KCCF if jail medical staff determines the individual’s condition necessitates outside care (see page 9).

Individuals incarcerated at KCCF cannot sleep on mattresses on the floor for more than 72 hours and King County will implement a system to monitor inmates assigned to mattresses on the floor (see page 13). The County will also provide periodic reports to monitor floor assignments.


The Settlement Agreement details specific capacity requirements for various sections of KCCF (see pages 14-16 for specifics).

Medical issues

The Settlement Agreement requires that the jail maintain accreditation with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC). NCCHC is a non-profit corporation which has developed standards and provides accreditation for medical care and health service in jails. KCCF must meet a set of standards to maintain accreditation, including privacy of care, staffing levels, the provision of timely medical and mental health care, mental health evaluations, and assessment protocols, among others. King County must also maintain a system for people to access emergency health care and transport individuals to necessary medical appointments outside of the facility.

What is the current progression of the ACLU’s case in Pierce County to enforce the Settlement Agreement?

On February 24, 2023, the ACLU-WA filed an action in Pierce County to enforce the Hammer Settlement Agreement. Since then, King County and the ACLU-WA have exchanged discovery and litigation is ongoing.

Is this a class action? How can I get involved?

This case is not a class action. There is no monetary settlement available. If you have been incarcerated at the King County Jail and have had similar experiences pertaining to these issues, feel free to contact our Information & Referral Program through our online and referral request form or our IRP line (206.624.2180), from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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