The City of Seattle has yet to issue the permits necessary to build a new King County Children and Family Justice Center at the site of the current youth jail at 12th and Alder. But planners for the euphemistically titled project are moving forward. On February 29th, an application to demolish the northern portion of the current facility was filed with the city. A week an a half earlier, the paperwork began for the new “phased” construction project to “construct a new youth services center building with courtroom, office, detention housing and school, and occupy per plan.”
Sunday, more than 200 people showed up for a camp and information tent protest to call for the city to never approve those permits for the county project because of ongoing concerns about racial disparity in the justice system and frustrations over building a brand new facility that they say perpetuates it.
Organizers Sunday said the big turnout was a sign of a new swell of opposition against the $210 million project. In February of 2015, the King County Council approved the construction contract to build the new facility following a 2012 levy vote to approve the funding. While many now hope City Hall will put a stop to the project, in 2014, the previous City Council paved the way for building the new youth dentition center with an 8-1 approval of land use bill to allow construction on the site. Kshama Sawant cast the lone opposing vote.
But there are other signs of hope for the opposition groups that rallied Sunday night including Ending the Prison Industrial Complex, Raging Grannies, Not One More Deportation, King County Educators Against Caging Youth, Books For Prisoners, Save The Kids, and No New Jim Crow. Last 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.
And in September, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution endorsing a call to cease the practice of youth detention in Seattle. Sponsored by Council member Mike O’Brien, the resolution also directed the City’s Criminal Justice Equity Team to develop a plan by this September to identify steps Seattle can take towards ending youth detention.
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. In 2014, there were 467 admissions to youth detention for probation violations — 42% of those were for black teens and children.
In addition to a push for change in the judicial system, the plans for the new facility will also bring a smaller approach to detention. Already planned for 144 beds vs. the current facility’s 210, King County Executive Dow Constantine slashed another 32 beds from the plan early last year. Officials say the true capacity will be even fewer — with room for less than 100.
UPDATE 9:15 AM: Tuesday’s City Council civil rights committee meeting is planned to include a decision on $600,000 in funding for the Social Justice Fund. Here’s a description of the vote from a council spokesperson:
Today’s committee vote would lift a proviso on that $600k, which would go to the Social Justice Fund nonprofit. SJF would recruit 15-25 people (including at-risk youth, community members, parents) and those volunteers would determine which community organizations would receive funds to help eliminate the need for youth incarceration. At the same time, those volunteers would be taught how to fundraise and write grants, to further increase the amount of money available for programs.