— Naomi Ishisaka (@naomiishisaka) February 10, 2015
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.”
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.”
— MaxWelp (@local_maxima) February 10, 2015
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.