In 2012, Seattle Voters and KC voters approved a $210M project levy. It is somewhat in dispute whether or not voters clearly knew the money was going mostly for a new detention center.
From a report from King County Executive Dow Constantine as well as Councilmember Larry Gossett and Susan Craighead, the presiding judge of the King County Superior Court from March 2015 to the Seattle City Council regarding the "Race and Equity Action Plan."
Beginning in 1998, King county created another major paradigm shift in our criminal justice system by focusing on reducing the incarceration of youth. We have been successful in this endeavor. The County has reduced the use of secure detention by nearly three-fourths, from a high of 205 youth in 2000 to as few as 45 youth in 2014. However, we have not met our goal of addressing disproportionality. In fact, minority youth, and African American youth in particular, are now a substantially greater proportion of the smaller number of youth incarcerated today.
The conversation around disproportionality has recently been focused on the Children and Family Justice Center that will replace the outmoded, dilapidated existing facility.According to The Stranger:
The replacement Center will include private rooms for families in crisis, basic services for court clients such as childcare, family and therapeutic courts, and a resource center to connect vulnerable youth and families with preventive and supportive services in their home communities.
The current Center is one that many judges have decried as a terrible place for youth. The report says that the current Center has 212 beds and the new one will have 144 beds with 112 of them for detention. The capacity is needed to house male and female youth separately.
The space that was originally intended for detention will be leased to community-based organizations that work with vulnerable youth.
"Law-wise, we’re required to have a juvenile detention in our county," Vaughn said. "It's a public safety issue." (Alexa Vaughn is the public information officer for the King County Executive's office.)
There have been very active groups protesting the building of the new detention center. The Times reported in November 2015 that several groups wanted the land permit pulled. Then, in April 2016, Raw Story reported:
Shaw and others immediately objected to the project even before the vote, dubbing it a “new youth jail.” When “open house” meetings were held around the county a month after the vote, organizers mobilized intense opposition. They gathered a coalition of self-described youth-prison abolitionists, anti-racist organizers, and clergy. Their efforts grew into three years of carefully orchestrated teach-ins on the harms of juvenile detention, fiery public forums, strategic protests, and—later—meetings with county officials.
But three groups funded by the Quaker affiliated American Friends Service Committee came to play pivotal roles: EPIC (Ending the Prison Industrial Complex); YUIR (Youth Undoing Institutional Racism) and European Dissent.
City leaders acknowledge the challenge. “There are times that juveniles commit crimes like murder and rape that necessitate a separation from civil society for a time,” said City Council Member Tim Burgess, a former police officer. “But in most other cases we need to stop criminalizing youth.”
The most significant policy change that led to the decrease, according to county officials, was a change in detention intake policies: Police officers are now required to call the detention center to determine whether confinement is necessary before bringing a young person there. Previously, police officers would drop off juveniles at King County detention center as they saw fit.
Today, King County has the second-lowest juvenile prison population of counties of equivalent size, according to JDAI.How does SPS figure into this?
Both King County and the City of Seattle have signed onto a Statement of Shared Commitment to reduce disparities in juvenile justice and are working with local school districts within the county, including Seattle Public Schools, to implement restorative justice practices in place of expulsions and suspensions.As well, The Stranger reported in April 2016 about a lawsuit filed against the construction of the new juvenile detention center:
Importantly, the county will also begin providing training to security officials stationed on buses in the County on how to deal with adolescents, specifically those of color.
“I’d love (the training) to extend to every school, police station, and prosecuting attorney’s office,” says Dave Upthegrove, the King County council member who spearheaded that legislation.
The lawsuit (PDF) makes three arguments: First, it alleges that the county used misleading ballot language in a 2012 property tax levy proposition to fund the new facility. The language described the facility as a center that "services the justice needs of children and families"—it made no mention of a jail or incarceration.One bottom line:
Second, the suit claims that the ballot language violates a state law that bars the county from collecting the taxes authorized by the levy after one year has expired since its passage. This gets pretty technical, but here's the claim: "After 2013, King County was required to revert to the pre-election rate and could only increase property taxes pursuant to the statutory 'limit factor' of RCW 84.55.
Third, the suit cites the county's own 2011 analysis of the building, which described the building as "generally in good condition." The analysis said repairs to the building would cost a total of $795,981—not millions of dollars, as the county has repeatedly claimed. Lowney alleged the county had "cooked the books."
And while the county prides itself on some of the steps taken so far, its officials know these changes are incomplete without input and leadership from the most important collaborator: communities of color.The other bottom line:
“Ultimately it can’t be white guys like myself, Mike O’Brien, and Tim Burgess who are attempting to figure this out,” says Dow Constantine.
Despite the reforms King County has made, both organizers view the county’s actions somewhat dismissively as “concessions,” and continue to have doubts about the county’s sincerity. Their vision is of a county whose juvenile justice system has no trace of bias, and ultimately, no need to exist.Dan Savage weighed in on this point, just weeks ago:
Will addressing root causes, battling systemic racism, investing in families, etc., create a future where kids don't commit violent crimes? Or are they suggesting we can, through innovation, find some alternative to incarcerating kids who do commit violent crimes? Are we aiming for "a system in which kids are not locked up for committing crimes"? Or hoping to create a society in which kids are simply incapable of committing crimes?
While doing less violence to kids—economic violence, racial violence, domestic violence—would certainly lead to less violence from kids, either outcome (no violent kids who might require incarceration, a non-custodial alternative to incarcerating violent kids) seems naively/ridiculously utopian.
The authors of that group editorial called for "eventually eliminating youth detention," to their credit, not the immediate elimination of youth detention. So even they're aware that ending youth incarceration isn't something we can do next week. Even these advocates recognize that—until proposed investments in restorative, individualized, and developmentally appropriate strategies begin paying whatever dividends they expect will be forthcoming—some area youths are going to be incarcerated. And right now we can only incarcerate them in the "toxic, cramped, and falling apart" facility we have.
Fighting for a just future—ending systemic racism (and mass incarceration), investing in families and communities, making sure every kid is safe and supported—is the right thing to do. Building a new, safe, non-toxic, and adaptable facility to house the kids we may have to incarcerate while we fight for that future? Also the right thing to do.