The issue here, over the building of a new juvenile detention center has brought a firestorm of an argument. (In August 2012, the King County ballot had a levy for a new “Children and Family Justice Center,” which ended up passing by 55.42%.)
It would seem to be a two-fold argument:
1) With the extreme disparities in who ends up in that detention center, are we focusing on the wrong thing?
2) Should there even BE a juvenile detention center? (To note, the current one - according to everyone who has ever been there, including law enforcement and judges - is a crumbling disaster.)
The Stranger Slog has some good editorials on this issue.
One is by Alex West and James Williams who are arguing against even rebuilding the current one. This is an argument that has grown in the African-American community.
Alex West is a member of Washington Incarceration Stops Here. James
Williams is a member of Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, and also a
member of Ending the Prison Industrial Complex.
They believe the following:
1) We don’t need 154 jail cells for youth.
2) The current jail targets youth of color.
3) People should not have to get arrested or go before a court to get social services.
4) The new jail will continue to be harmful to youth.
5) The youth jail building project contributes to gentrification.
6) There are alternatives to caging youth.
7)Building a new jail and courts is not inevitable.
These are some good starting points for discussion for what the center should be doing (not just incarcerating youth).
I think there are some real and valid concerns here but unfortunately, Mr. West and Mr. Williams, in their editorial, repeatedly pitch this as a white against black issue. I don't believe that is going to unify people to work towards a solution.
They also say this:
For the rare case in which a young person has engaged in a serious act
of harm toward another, the proper response is to seek healing and
reconciliation, not punishment.
I think that there are cases where any young person who commits "a serious act of harm" against another person - no matter their color - needs to be detained.
Judge Susan Craighead had two editorials - one at the Slog and the other thru the KC Bar Bulletin.
Susan Craighead is the presiding judge for King County Superior Court. She delivered these remarks at the court’s annual Tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall, held on Thursday, February 12, 2015.
Her op-ed at the Slog is frank.
On behalf of King County Superior Court, today I come to you with a bold
statement the likes of which you do not often hear from government. We are sorry we have not been listening well enough to our community. Some people are shouting at us
because they do not feel they are being heard. Many other people in our
community may not be shouting, but they may perceive the county as
tone-deaf. We must sit down with them and listen. And we need to speak
frankly about the institutional racism and racial disparity that persist
in our juvenile justice system.
Her sobering stats:
In 2014 in King County, for the first time, the number of referrals for
African American youth exceeded the number of referrals for white youth.
More than half the cases in King County Juvenile Court were filed
against African American youth, while they make up just under 10 percent
of the population.
No judge wants to place a young person in detention. We know that
detention can increase recidivism and the chances of failure in school.
This is why we try to reserve detention for those who are accused of
serious offenses and for whom there are no realistic alternatives. And
too often judges find they have no realistic alternatives.
We have been challenged to envision a world where there is no need to incarcerate youth at all. As much as we wish we could, we cannot implode juvenile detention tomorrow with no alternatives in place,
especially for youth who cannot be released to their parents or
guardians. Mothers, fathers, faith leaders, educators, and community
workers need to suggest to us community-based and other alternatives to
detention that can work and be accepted by the people of King County.
Today we announce we are immediately embarking on a series of listening sessions
with the families we serve, with the leaders in our community, and with
a broad swath of community organizations throughout the county.
(Info is not yet available on these "listening sessions".)
Her op-ed at the King County Bar Bulletin is also frank but somewhat different:
month I am mounting my soapbox to call attention to a cancer growing on
the City of Seattle's body politic. The movement opposing construction
of the Children and Family Justice Center is growing, especially in the
wake of Ferguson. Its leaders are utilizing tactics calculated to
intimidate anyone with a contrary view - be they neighbors who want to
replace the existing eyesore or city councilmembers facing their first
district re-election bids.
Those of us who worked to get the
ballot measure passed - the KCBA helped lead the charge - need to reach
out and assure members of the City Council that we will stand with them
as they heed the will of the majority of voters, rather than fulfill the
demands of a vocal group of 200 to 500 opponents.
She points out that KC has made efforts and strides in reducing juvenile incarceration:
We were successful in driving
down the absolute numbers of youth in detention - from well over 200 in
the 1990s to just 42 yesterday. This is one of the lowest rates of
incarceration of youth of any large urban jurisdiction in the country.
While this means fewer youth of color are incarcerated, those youth who
are in detention are disproportionately youth of color (more than 40
percent are African American, compared to 6 percent of King County's
She is right about City Council district elections and the influence of district issues. It will be interesting to see what role those issues play in who gets elected and why.