Despite protest, County Council votes to build new youth detention center


After nearly five hours of impassioned public testimony that drew an overflow crowd and a brief police response, the King County Council unanimously approved an ordinance to build a new youth detention center at 12th and Alder Monday evening.

Dozens of people packed into the County Council chambers to voice their opposition to the controversial plan to replace the county’s crumbling youth detention center with a smaller capacity Children and Family Justice Center. In the 7-0 vote, the council approved a $154 million contract with developer Howard S. Wright to construct the new facility, which is expected to be complete in 2018.

Public testimony was tense from the start. Council member Joe McDermott began by asking dozens of people who didn’t have a seat to wait outside the chambers until their name was called to comment. Most refused to leave and the meeting was recessed several times until the standing crowd was allowed to stay.

James Williams, a member of the No New Youth Jail campaign, was among the first to speak. When he went over his allotted two minutes, McDermott asked the council marshals to remove Williams from the chamber. That set off chants of “let him go!” and prompted the marshals to call Seattle police for backup. Williams was eventually allowed to stay and police never entered the chambers.

Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, a vocal opponent of replacing the current youth center, addressed the council before heading off to her own council meeting down the street.

“Incarcerating children is the most inhumane thing you can do to them,” Sawant said. “If King County was simply talking about renovations … it would be different.”

Jill Mangaliman is the director of the south Seattle-based advocacy group Got Green.

Jill Mangaliman is the director of the south Seattle-based advocacy group Got Green.

The detention and justice center has been the target of ongoing opposition by protesters and community groups who say $200 million shouldn’t be spent on a youth detention system that disproportionately detains African Americans. According the the county, the current facility’s major plumbing and electrical systems have decayed beyond repair.

Last year, the City Council paved the way for building a new youth dentition center when council members voted 8-1 in favor of a land use bill to allow construction on the site. Last month, the county opted to cancel a planned “open house of conceptual designs” of the controversial facility and instead held a “virtual open house.”

In addition to calling for a “no” vote on the ordinance, many people during Monday’s meeting called for the county to make good on a promise to conduct a racial impact study on building a new detention center. Others said they were mislead by the language of the 2012 ballot measure to fund a “children and family justice center,” not realizing it was for a detention facility.

In 2012, 55% of voters approved a $210 million levy to build the new 144-bed center. The existing center has 210 beds. Detention data shows the current center is typically less than half full.

After two hours of comments from dozens of speakers, some speakers began reading from an anti-prison book written by activist Angela Davis. The meeting, which began at 1:30 PM, didn’t finish until nearly 6:30 PM.

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45 thoughts on “Despite protest, County Council votes to build new youth detention center

  1. The building clearly needs to be replaced, and it’s funded, so I really don’t understand the opposition. Yes, disproportionate justice issues need to be addressed, but in the meantime some juveniles need to be locked up. If they are not placed at this location, they would have to be incarcerated in adult facilities, and be exposed to all the hardened criminals there.

    • Exactly. The opposition to this seems so, well, childish. Of course, we should look at alternatives to incarceration, both from a humanitarian and economic standpoint. But there will always be a need for a facility like this.

    • “some juveniles need to be locked up”
      This is the exact cultural paradigm of thought that these people are protesting against. Thank you for proving them correct in their concern.

    • So, no juveniles should ever be locked up? They can commit any crime imaginable and roam the streets with impunity? Just think, we can mirror some countries where unscrupulous adults use gangs of minors to commit crimes because they won’t face lockup. Is that a preferable “cultural paradigm”?

    • Ok, I’m a cultural lowlife, caught up in some retrograde paradigm. So tell me, O wise one (because the protesters sure can’t string together a coherent thought) what are we to do with violent juveniles, beside put them in jail? Should we have held the hands of the Tuba Man’s killers and assured them it was all society’s fault? I’d really like to hear a solution from planet Earth, and I await your wisdom.

    • Well full disclaimer, it’s not clear to me how many of those 144 beds are actually jail cells. I imagine/hope a majority of this facility will at most house kids and provide them with rehab-type services in a manner is actually productive and proven to reduce crime and benefit their lives. Jailing kids, specifically taking them out of their community has been shown to increase the incidence of repeat offending and creating adult offenders whereas connecting them with services in their community can be much more productive. I’m not trained in child psychology to know what threshold we should use for “locking up” a kid. I doubt it’s a good idea to even define a hard threshold. But to use your example, I’d venture to say that there aren’t 144 kids committing Tuba Man-style killings at any given time. I don’t pretend to the answers myself, but this punitive attitude of “well, some kids just need to be locked up” just feels simple minded, and is a good way to avoid conversations we should be having, like why these kids are committing the crimes in the first place.

    • There are at least 144 kids in the coo unity who are gang members and committing more than petty crime. Are you kidding me? And to use the term “kid” for some of the people I experience is really to cast it differently than it is. There are plenty of violent and dangerous youth out there. I agree that we need other services and need to study why it is that we incarcerate disproportionate numbers of black youth but it may also be that they are committing more of the crime. The issue needs to be studied and we need better interventions to get these kids off a path to prison. But the facility is still needed. If they didn’t rebuild it, they would still incarcerate the kids, they would just do it in squalor. These people seem to lack logical process or even an understanding of the law. They are basically trying to overturn a voter approved funding and are simply asserting people didn’t know what it was. They didn’t know that. Frankly, I heard the nonsense on npr and the descriptions from council members in how thepreatened they were. I’m oissed that they weren’t arrested. I got harassed by three cops last week when my headlight was out. When I reacted and said I thought three cops pulling a guy over for a headlight creates ill will with law abiding citizens they then decided to give me a sobriety test, which I oassed if course. This was harassment. And it was in front of my house. Si how is it that these miscreants get away with ignoring rules and laws? I don’t get what is going on.

  2. The goal should be to work to eliminate the need for such facilities in the long term. In the short term, the new justice facility should be built.

  3. Why the opposition to use of the word “jail” when describing a jail for children? “Children and Family Justice Center” is, of course, absurd, but “detention facility” still seems an attempt to soften the perception of the county’s plan to build a new jail for kids.

    • Kids, minors, call them what you want but the fact remains that some people under the age of 18 commit violent crimes. Do you think that none of them should be locked up because of their age? What about that guy that has been in the media this week for raping an 8 year old boy and setting him on fire? I think the accused was 13 at the time. Should he be set free because of his “developing brain” ?

      http://www.khou.com/story/news/2015/02/10/attacker-who-doused-boy-with-gasoline-set-him-on-fire-convicted-of-capital-murder/23156125/

    • Yes, you’ve made this point 4 times on this thread now. JAIL, JAIL, JAIL. OK? We get it. I have no problem using literal language. I thought you were implying that you were against these JAILS when you wrote “an attempt to soften the perception of the county’s plan to build a new jail for kids.” I guess I was wrong. But yeah JAIL, call a spade a spade. Got it!

    • Hey smart guy, do you even have any idea how terribly ironic saying “call a spade a spade” is? Do you know the racist origins of that phrase?

    • Actually, I do know where that phrase comes from. Perhaps you might want to get your education from somewhere a little less based on pop-education. Because the rule of thumb does NOT refer to the size of the stick you can use to beat your wife in old England and a spade did not originally have any racist origin. You might think to stop being so holier than though and fact check yourself.
      Historians trace the origins of the expression to the Greek phrase “to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough.” Exactly who was the first author of “to call a trough a trough” is lost to history. Some attribute it to Aristophanes, while others attribute it to the playwright Menander. The Greek historian Plutarch (who died in A.D. 120) used it in Moralia. The blogger Matt Colvin, who has a Ph.D. in Greek literature, recently pointed out that the original Greek expression was very likely vulgar in nature and that the “figs” and “troughs” in question were double entendres.

      Erasmus, the renowned humanist and classical scholar, translated the phrase “to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough” from Greek to Latin. And in so doing he dramatically changed the phrase to “call a spade a spade.” (This may have been an incorrect translation but seems more likely to have been a creative interpretation and a deliberate choice.) “Spade” stuck because of Erasmus’ considerable influence in European intellectual circles, writes the University of Vermont’s Wolfgang Mieder in his 2002 case study Call a Spade a Spade: From Classical Phrase to Racial Slur.

      “To call a spade a spade” entered the English language when Nicholas Udall translated Erasmus in 1542. Famous authors who have used it in their works include Charles Dickens and W. Somerset Maugham, among others.

      To be clear, the “spade” in the Erasmus translation has nothing to do with a deck of cards, but rather the gardening tool. In fact, one form of the expression that emerged later was “to call a spade a bloody shovel.” The early usages of the word “spade” did not refer to either race or skin color.

    • Ok, so what do opponents suggest? Should there be no facility to incarcerate youth who commit crimes? You can’t exactly let them all roam around free while we develop programs to long-range reduce juvenile crime. What’s the alternative?

    • I don’t know what incentive you are talking about, they aren’t actually the ones arresting the youth who are committing the crimes. The police have no connection to the incentive.

  4. Isn’t the old one like 20 years old? Amazing its being replaced so soon and has deteriorated plumbing and electrical beyond repair

    • Isn’t it awful that modern architecture designs buildings that are only meant to last @50 years? If you think about it, all of the current development on The Hill will be torn down in 20-50 years. On one level that might be a good thing but on many others (environmental for starters) it is shameful. A hundred years ago things were built to last and many of those houses and buildings do still stand – that is if they are lucky enough to escape developers’ bulldozers. Preservation Now!

    • Yes and no. If the cost to upgrade and expand tips the scales of tear it down and replace it, it should be torn down and replaced. Unless the building is historically significant – in this case it’s not. In the end we most likely end up with a structure that meets current codes and has the lasted in technology and efficiency. The new structure will certainly be more eco friendly.

      On the plus side most elements of a tear down are sorted and recycled, jobs are created and so on.

    • It’s not necessarily the building, a lot has to do with how it is maintained. You let maintenance slide, and now matter how good the building design and construction was, it is going to reach a tipping point.

  5. The notion that innocent kids are being locked up for no reason with the key being tossed is such a joke in so many ways. Although it does serve as a convenient myth to spread for the typical insular, echo-chamber activist.

    First off, the juvenile incarceration rate has dropped over 40% in Washington State the past 15 years, and the reason is LOTS of new programs to divert kids who deserve a second or third chance. The King County justice system has initiated many progressive reforms in the past decade, and offers up plenty of chances for young adults to steer away from crime and violence to avoid significant incarceration time.

    However, there will always be a small group of dangerous criminals, punks, gang members & wanna-be’s who will likely NEVER reform their ways, and that small group can do a LOT of damage to innocent people in very little time.

    The anarchists, family members & naive dreamer activists who shouted their way through that council hearing other day are mostly defending the most anti-societal elements of the juvenile population. And by doing so, they “empower” habitual criminals to re-offend, by excusing their actions and allowing them permanent victim status.

    If you talk to any gang member who decided to turn his life around, or any chronic thief who finally discovered it’s more rewarding to earn your money rather than lie, cheat and steal to get it, the TURNING POINT was always the simple (yet difficult) action of TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for one’s previous & future actions.

    These “social justice” activists seem hell-bent on preventing the bad kids from ever taking that important step.

    • What argument IS being made then? As far as anyone can tell, the only point is they don’t want to spend money to build a new detention center. So the presumption is that either they think one of two things, or a combination of: 1. Underage youths who commit crime should not be incarcerated or 2. they are innocent and should not be incarcerated. If you feel that MaxR isn’t responding to any of the arguments made then maybe its because no arguments HAVE been made. The only argument I have heard is that they thought the council should have voted no because “THEY” think that the voters didn’t understand what they were voting for. So that belief in an of itself should change a vote just cuz they say so and can mob the council meeting.

    • Greg wrote, What argument IS being made then?

      What argument is being made by whom?

      If you feel that MaxR isn’t responding to any of the arguments made

      That is not the case. All I wrote above was that MaxR refuted a claim that nobody seems to have made in Bryan’s post or in any of the comments left in response to the post.

    • Well, the argument is not being made by anyone and appears to not be being made at all on any point, other than they don’t think the voters knew they were voting to rebuild the detention center. But that doesn’t mean that He cannot make a point absent of a point. After all, one is left to guess as to what it is that they are disagreeing with.

    • Insofar as a straw man argument is meant to mislead or misrepresent what the original argument is, I don’t think that this is a straw man argument. The basic putting forward of any statement of this group of people is simply incoherent. Yes, we could ask….. I don’t know who. But I think that if one doesn’t believe that these youth should have a place of incarceration, which seems to be the case, that one would presume some level of innocence; be that actual or in a chronological sense. It’s a reasonable assumption, which differentiates it from a straw man argument.

    • The point is not that we don’t want money “BEING SPENT,” we want to shine a light on WHO is going to make lots of $$$ off of deals like this, and who continues to suffer in the unjust society in which we live????

    • “The point is not that we don’t want money “BEING SPENT,” we want to shine a light on WHO is going to make lots of $$$ off of deals like this”
      I have not heard anyone argue about how the contracting process proceeds. Contracting is part of building something. Someone is in fact making money. It is not the city’s issue to make sure no one makes money. In fact, public works are a very Keynesian way to stimulate the economy whilst also providing necessary infrastructure. So that is what I would call a straw man argument. That dog don’t hunt.

      “who continues to suffer in the unjust society in which we live????”
      Innocent people who do not commit crimes, THAT is who suffers, especially when we have some misguided notion that youths cannot or should not be incarcerated and are harmless if they receive early intervention after committing crimes and felonies. Those same youth are also victims when they are placed in adult facilities without any early intervention or therapeutic assistance during incarceration. So none of your argument flies.

  6. There are many ideas for alternatives. I might suggest watching the testimony at the Council meeting to hear many great suggestions: http://king.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=4&clip_id=5161

    You can also find testimony from other City and County meetings.

    Alternatives include restorative justice practices in schools and within communities, similar to what has worked effectively in Baltimore. I’d recommend watching the documentary Fixing Juvie Justice for more on restorative justice: http://cjca.net/index.php/blog/354-fixing-juvie-justice-gives-new-perspective-on-keeping-kids-out-of-jail

    You can also look to the Annie E Casey Foundation’s work to demonstrate the effectiveness and cost savings of investing in community over confinement. http://www.aecf.org/resources/the-missouri-model/

    But at the heart is the problem is that there was no due diligence by the county to assess the needs before designing a facility. And there definitely was not meaningful engagement with the communities most affected by the facility.

    The county is building a cart before the horse. Much of the testimony at the County meeting showed the willingness and desire of folks still today to work with the county to determine the true needs of any new facility.

    The city has forced the county to do a racial assessment of the build, which it should have done beforehand, but the assessment will have no bearing on the design of the facility. It’s like building a factory without having a clue of what we’ll be manufacturing, but we’ll do an assessment and hope what ever we build can be useful.

    • “But at the heart is the problem is that there was no due diligence by the county to assess the needs before designing a facility.” How do you know that? Were you part of the planning and development process with staff and at what stage is it currently? Sounds like a bit of monday mooring quarterbacking to me.

      “And there definitely was not meaningful engagement with the communities most affected by the facility.” If it replacing an existing facility with something of equal size or smaller, they don’t have to because the impact will not change.

      “The city has forced the county to do a racial assessment of the build, which it should have done beforehand, but the assessment will have no bearing on the design of the facility. It’s like building a factory without having a clue of what we’ll be manufacturing, but we’ll do an assessment and hope what ever we build can be useful.” Yes, you are right, the assessment will not make a difference in any part of this project. That is one of those ideologically pointless assessments that they city sometimes requires but will not change the outcome. Much like when McGinn insisted on spending money to have Seattle vote on the 99 tunnel. Idealogues in Seattle are legion and it was the City and County listening to their feedback and trying to appease them which caused them to consent to such an assessment. But that is neither her nor there for this issue.

      The first points you made, I have no argument with because what we do as a proactive measure does not negate the fact that no matter how successful those proactive measures are, we will still need this facility and leaving those youth in the substandard and outdated facility is a bad decision.

    • You act like you care by saying “leaving those youth in the substandard and outdated facility is a bad decision.” Look at the housing in which the black communities that populate the jails live. Look at the health and education that is accessible to them. How about replacing those “facilities”?

      If people who were actually concerned were willing to spend just a small bit of their energy to making the whole system better for everyone, instead of leaving it up to our trusted/ untrustworthy officials, we could make this world a much better place than it is.

    • Actually, what I stated was a matter of fact, not a statement about how little or how much I care. And because you have NO IDEA who I am, you can’t actually say what I feel nor can you reasonably refute my statement when I say I do care. People like you are the problem, people who vilify anyone who thinks different from you about the solutions to issues.
      At the end of the day, your holier-than-thoug diatribe is irrelevant because this is about replacing an outdated and crumbling facility meant to house underage people who have violated the law and for whom the court system has seen fit to incarcerate along with some hope of rehabilitation. That will not change no matter how many people get involved to make the system better, as you say everyone “should” do. There will still be criminals in King County, no matter the efforts. And we know that. You are naive if you think that we will completely eradicate crime by being involved. And yes, I trust the officials who have education and experience in this area a whole lot more than I trust community activists to do it.

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