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Panel: Ending youth detention starts with making new 12th/Alder facility adaptable to other uses

CFJC-Conceptual-Sketch2-e1424233733533

Conceptual sketch of the approved Children and Family Justice Center.

Controversial plans to replace the crumbling youth jail at 12th and Alder may be moving forward, but officials are already anticipating the day when it won’t be used for youth detention at all.

In a report reviewed by City Council members Monday, members of an expert panel said the best way to stem racial disparities in the new King County Children and Family Justice Center would be to work towards ending the practice of youth detention altogether. That means building a new facility that could one day serve other uses.

“In its place, government should focus on community-run and neighborhood-based alternatives for youth that are adequately resourced to address youth needs …” the report read.

David Chapman, the county’s Justice System Improvement Manager, said some beds inside the facility were already being designed to adapt to other uses in the future, like substance abuse treatment.

In October, City Council members ordered the racial equity analysis as a condition of passing land use changes needed to build the new facility. The report was the result of work carried out by a 17-member, multi-disciplinary stakeholder group organized by the city’s Office of Civil Rights.

The prevalence of racial disparities in the youth detention system are well documented. According to a special report published in January, 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.

Council member Kshama Sawant, who cast the lone opposing vote to the land use changes last year, praised the report in the committee meeting Monday but said many of the issues and recommendations were raised months ago.

“It seems a little like Twilight Zone. We should’ve talked about this before there was a vote on the new King County youth jail,” she said.

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 center. The existing center has 210 beds and detention data shows the current center is typically less than half full.

The stakeholder group identified three main goals in their report:

  • Eliminate the need to detain or incarcerate youth.
  • Eliminate racial inequities in arrest rates, detention, sentencing and prison population.
  • Center communities of color and other youth facing oppression in the provision, creation and use of community-based alternatives to secure confinement

In addition to building an adaptable facility, the panel strongly agreed that all youth processed through the adult system should ultimately be detained in a youth facility. The report also recommended a series of immediate and longterm reforms, including using “restorative justice responses for crimes of poverty and other crimes, especially Theft 3.”

The stakeholder group also suggested hiring “people of color” to construct the new facility. While she supported the initiative, Sawant said the irony was not lost on her that the panel was encouraging minority workers in the area help build a facility that will disproportionately detain minority youths.

As part of the report, the panel consulted with various community members and highlighted this paraphrased comment as representative of how many felt on the issue of reducing racial disparities in youth detention:

The system sets us up to fail. We cannot resolve that simply with programs—we must “dismantle the system” itself. All system stakeholders must acknowledge their roles in contributing to inequities in criminal justice, and be accountable for eliminating negative outcomes for youth of color and other youth facing oppression, including LGBTQ and low-income youth.

The report comes after a plan was rolled out earlier this year wherein King County judges pledged to lock up fewer youths for minor offenses and elected officials promised to bolster youth jobs and diversion programs.

Racial Equity Analysis of King County Children and Family Justice Center (Report)

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Where are the grown ups?
Where are the grown ups?
5 years ago

Sawant thinks she’s in the Twilight Zone? Part of that is could be that she apparently doesn’t understand that she’s on the CITY council, and this facility is operated by the COUNTY. Council’s input is requested, but mostly as a courtesy.

And I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone when I read that a “stakeholder group” is suggesting, let alone with a straight face, that we should be planning a youth jail with the goal to “Eliminate the need to detain or incarcerate youth.”, but then goes on to say that kids charged with a violent crime need to be incarcerated at this facility with a goal of no incarceration.

The county should just sell that land off for development and build the new facility in Kent next to the regional justice center.

RWK
RWK
5 years ago

The goal to “eliminate the need to detail or incarcerate youth” is a lofty one, but is not realistic. Until a multitude of society’s ills (poverty, high rates of unwed mothers, drug/alcohol abuse, crime, etc) are solved, there will always be a need to incarcerate youth. Some of them commit heinous crimes and deserve to be in jail, because law-abiding citizens need protection from their violent acts, and because they need to be held accountable.

M.
M.
5 years ago
Reply to  RWK

Call me picky but… I wouldn’t call “high rates of unwed mothers” a societal illness. Perhaps you meant to refer to teenage pregnancy rates? Nothing wrong with a mama or papa being “unwed”.

RWK
RWK
5 years ago
Reply to  M.

Sorry, I should have been clearer. I was referring to the fact that many unwed mothers end up being a single parent in a setting of poverty, and that results in all kinds of dysfunction with her kids.

I don’t care if the parents are gay or straight or whatever, but if they are at least cohabiting and if they truly love their kids, the outcome is usually better. Yes, poor single mothers are sometimes great parents, but the odds are stacked against them.

citycat
citycat
5 years ago

Clearly, Sawant has never lived or spent time in a neighborhood plagued by gang activity. Many of the gang members are minors, and they commit heinous crimes. By the time they shoot or beat someone their rap sheets are long. They also recruit other minors into their gangs, thereby endangering other young people.

I agree that alternatives to incarceration are the best option for a non-violent first offense, but repeat offenders are too dangerous and clearly aren’t interested in turning their lives around.

We have a problem house in our neighborhood, and the gang that was based there for several years was started by the homeowner’s grandson when he was 14 years old. Our neighborhood endured years of drug dealing, shootings, graffiti, loud arguments and fighting in the street, and loitering. All of this activity was carried out with impunity and in plain view of everyone in the neighborhood. On the very few occasions when there was an arrest, the gang members were out dealing on the street corner the next day.

I do think Sawant and other city council members need to learn more about the reality of crime. There are some who are arrested who will turn their lives around when they get a second chance, and there are some who won’t. Those who do continue down the trajectory of crime need to be incarcerated to protect other people.

Resident
Resident
5 years ago

As a variation on what other posters have already said, if you look at the list of offenses that land youth at the detention center they are serious crimes. To claim there is no place for a holding situation for such youth is absurd. There are also support services at the detention center that some of these kids aren’t getting otherwise.

john kirk
john kirk
5 years ago

How funny : )

jeff
jeff
5 years ago

Young or Old, White or Black, If they commit serious crimes lock em up!