After a legal victory by activist group Ending the Prison Industrial Complex against the funding calculation of King County’s Children and Family Justice Center, construction at the 12th Ave project is still fully underway.
“There’s what we think should be happening and then there’s what appears to be happening and they’re not the same,” said EPIC’s attorney Knoll Lowney.
EPIC sued King County in April 2016 after the county over-collected property taxes under Proposition 1, enacted in 2014.
The Court of Appeals ruled King County gathered its funds for the youth jail inappropriately by levying property taxes from an increased base tax in the first year without clearly stating so in their proposition. Lowney expressed this cuts somewhere between $100 to $250 million for the construction.
But the court also didn’t put an injunction on the county, meaning that it didn’t require the county to stop construction.
Lowney said he believes King County wants to appeal the funding ruling to the Washington Supreme Court. In addition, the county already signed a contract with contractor Howard S. Wright so backing out of the contract would cost a good sum of money.
King County officials have not responded to our questions about the status of the construction project and any contingency planning around funding issues. UPDATE: Alexa Vaughn, a spokesperson for the project, said in a call Friday morning that King County is moving forward as permitted and still weighing its legal options. Currently, construction work continues, which Vaughn said meant “using the same money” the county already planned on. “The taxes have been collected already,” she said.
The new facility is under construction on the same campus as the previous 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 the county passed a roughly $210 million levy in 2012.
Earlier this year, CHS reported on the county’s efforts to show its changing approach to juvenile crime and justice. According to officials, the aging 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. Meanwhile, another 17-20 juveniles on average are held in the adult facility in Kent, owing to regulations surrounding their age and the crimes involved.
EPIC and No New Youth Jail advocates have been at odds with King County for five years.
“If they go forward without that money they’re going to have to make some serious budget cuts elsewhere,” Lowney said, speculating that King County would use or is using the General Fund.
With King County’s appeal already spent, officials could ask the state’s supreme court to review the ruling, but that’s discretionary. The court gets to chose if the case should be reviewed.