The passage of a surprise resolution on rent control may have stole the headlines following Monday’s City Council meeting, but the passage of another resolution concerning juvenile detention was no less deserving.
City Council members unanimously endorsed a call to cease the practice of youth detention in Seattle — eventually. Sponsored by Council member Mike O’Brien, the resolution was introduced as a result of the debate over replacing the crumbling Youth Detention Center at 12th and Alder.
The resolution also directs the City’s Criminal Justice Equity Team to develop a plan by next September to identify steps the City can take towards ending youth detention.
Resolutions are not binding law, they only state the intent or opinion of the Council. O’Brien acknowledged Monday that the passing it would be meaningless without actually working to reduce youth detention rates, particularly for children of color.
“With the help of local social justice and anti-racist groups — and the start of our City’s budget discussions now underway — Seattle can now advance a comprehensive strategy aimed at keeping kids out of jail,” O’Brien said.
The juvenile justice system is administered by King County, which has already pledged to work towards ending youth incarceration.
The latest chapter in the debate over youth detention in Seattle was stirred up when King County began moving forward with plans to replace its Central Area youth jail. The King County Council unanimously approved an ordinance to build the new facility during a lengthy, heated meeting in February. In 2012, 55% of voters approved a $210 million levy to build the new 144-bed facility. The existing center has 210 beds. Detention data shows the current center is typically less than half full.
Last year, City Council members passed a land use bill that gave the County the ability to build the Children and Family Justice Center (City Council member Kshama Sawant cast the lone opposing vote). The bill also called for a racial impact study of building the new facility.
The primary finding of that report was clear: the best way to end racial disparities in youth detention is to end youth detention altogether.
Black youth in King County are roughly six times more likely than white youth to face a judge in juvenile court. And while the number of youth referred to juvenile court has been falling for years, the bulk of that benefit has gone to whites. Last year, there were 467 admissions to youth detention for probation violations — 42% of those were for black youths.
In March, King County judges pledged to lock up fewer youths for minor offenses and elected officials promised to bolster diversion programs as part of a plan to address inherent racism in the county’s juvenile justice system.