King County to ‘reorg’ a public health approach to juvenile justice

King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an order Thursday directing the health department to make a plan and timeline for juvenile justice reform. Seattle Police Department Chief Kathleen O’Toole supports the order.

“I wholeheartedly support this bold step to transform the way our community handles juvenile offenders,” O’Toole said in a statement. “Credible research suggests that we can reduce crime by bringing a rehabilitative, public health approach to juvenile justice. In addition to the change that’s being announced today, I also believe we must continue to expand programs that support all of Seattle’s young people early in life, investments that are essential to preventing youth from becoming offenders in the first place.”

King County will contract with a New-York based Vera Institute of Justice to review juvenile detention policies and practices, and recommend potential reforms. The reorganization proposal will have input from the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee, the Children and Youth advisory Board, criminal justice systems partners and community stakeholders.

The proposal will identify potential labor impacts and other considerations but staff will remain consistent.

“The data on youth incarceration is clear. Simply locking young people up does not reduce recidivism and may in fact increase the likelihood that young offenders will reoffend,” said Mayor Tim Burgess. “Here in Seattle, we already do better than a lot of jurisdictions in limiting the number of young people we detain and in steering troubled youth toward rehabilitative services when possible. But we can do more. Placing our juvenile detention system under the direction of Public Health is the right move for our young people, for the community as a whole, and for the goal of bringing research-backed solutions to the challenge of criminal justice reform.”

The cost of the changes will be developed before 2019-2020 budget proposals.

Currently, the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention oversees operations at the Youth Services Center on E Alder.

As construction continues on the expanding youth jail facility at 12th and Alder, King County has been seeking changes in procedures and new programs to address concerns about racial inequity and issues like recidivism that stem from outdated approaches to youth criminal incarceration. UPDATE: Despite a larger campus and increase in services on the property, King County has taken issue with our description of the youth jail facility as “expanding” — Here is their response:

The capacity of King County’s juvenile detention will actually be cut almost in half when the CFJC facility opens. The new center will have a juvenile detention with 100 fewer beds than the current facility, the Youth Services Center (Future CFJC Juvenile Detention: 112 beds; current Youth Services Center Juvenile Detention: 212 beds). The Youth Services Center, including its juvenile detention facilities, will be demolished after the CFJC opens. A parking garage will be built in its place. The future juvenile detention is designed flexibly so that portions of it can be converted to non-detention use over time.

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