The League of Women Voters presented three panelists with the overarching question Thursday night — “How do we get to zero detention in King County?”
Through a series of questions focused on the $200 million project to build a new juvenile legal and detention center on 12th Ave, systemic racism, and the goal of zero detention for youth, panelists agreed there’s a lot of changes that can be made to incarcerate fewer young people in King County.
The three panelists had mixed opinions on whether or not the new detention center is a good idea.
Wesley Saint Clair said he struggles with where he stands on the project — the current building is in poor shape and costs more each year to maintain, the King County Superior Court judge said, but also the needs of the youth staying there aren’t being met. Ideally, there would be smaller facilities throughout the county, but that’s not feasible.
“We know incarceration is not a cure to much of anything,” he said. The right services need to be put in place to help youth before they end up in the detention center.
Dominique Davis, co-founder and CEO of Community Passageways, which works to bring healing to marginalized youth, is against it.
“It just doesn’t seem like this is how we should be spending our tax dollars,” Davis said. He said if $50 million was provided to communities for preventative programming, “we wouldn’t have nobody in that jail.” The same couple dozen kids rotating through the jail all have experienced either abuse, fatherlessness, have a drug addiction or mental illness or another traumatic experience impacting them.
King County Superior Court Judge Laura Inveen thinks the families and others who use the center, deserve a better facility. The voter-approved, earmarked dollars can’t be used elsewhere, she said. The new building will provide better water, improved space for family visitation, the option to reduce secured space in the future, an area that can be used for peacemaking circles and by the community.
The peacemaking process or peace circles were a practice that came up frequently in the course of the forum. Saint Clair explained them as the way conflicts were resolved before there was government. Where issues were discussed with both sides.
Davis has spent time holding peace circles in schools in the region where he speaks with students, particularly those of color to get them to open up about the trauma they may not even know existed so they can find a way to move forward. The circles Davis has facilitated have helped teachers and students understand one another, he said.
“Peacemaking and healing circles are powerful,” Davis said.
Further work that could be done in schools is eliminating zero tolerance for actions that don’t deserve it, Saint Clair said. Just having teachers listen and take the time to check in with students can be a big improvement, Davis said, as well as having teachers that represent the student populations.
The panelists’ lists included prenatal care, support from public health nurses, present parents, an end to unnecessary suspension and expulsion, dealing with youth’s trauma, and changing people’s stigmas of black and minority youth and communities.
In today’s political climate where racism is blatantly apparent, Davis said that should be a call for people to fight against it.
“We have to not sit passively by and allow these oppressive statements to go by,” said Saint Clair, adding that it will take people coming together to make improvements.
In mid-March, CHS reported on the county’s efforts to show its changing approach to juvenile crime and justice as the new facility moves toward construction. According to officials, the current 12th and Alder facility held an average daily population in 2016 of 51 juveniles, down 16% from 2015, and an even steeper drop from 1998 when the facility routinely held more than 150 people.
The new facility is slated to rise on the same campus as the existing juvenile justice center along 12th Ave about a block south of the Seattle University campus. King County has been looking to replace the courthouse and administrative buildings for years and is building a new jail along with them. The recession of 2008 held up plans for the expensive project, but in 2012, the county put a roughly $210 million levy before voters which passed by a 55-45 margin. The existing detention center has 212 beds. The new one is being planned to hold no more than 112, officials say.