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Protest continues push to stop county’s new 12th Ave Children and Family Justice Center

(Images: CHS)

(Images: CHS)

IMG_1002The 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.

The Seattle Times wrote here in 2014 about some of the SJF foundation’s work in the Pacific Northwest. You can review the resolution the proviso was based on here.

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6 thoughts on “Protest continues push to stop county’s new 12th Ave Children and Family Justice Center

  1. These advocates seem to be under the naive assumption that all young people are innocents and none of them commit serious crimes. In fact, some commit heinous crimes and should be charged, prosecuted, and incarcerated if found guilty.

    It’s all well and good to try to find ways to reduce the root causes of criminality, but such efforts will take decades and will never be completely successful. In the meantime, juvenile courts and prisons are necessary, and this capital project should proceed.

  2. It’s my understanding that Juvie jail only hosts serious offenders. These offenders would have to be placed in an adult facility if Juvie wasn’t available. The court system is also separate from the adult system because kids who commit crimes should be treated as kids, not adults. These people are protesting the wrong thing. There are a lot of valid points about the racism, education, and so much more that hurts youth. But the building isn’t the problem and it would still be needed if we magically fixed racism, the education system, and the economy.

  3. So once we get rid of all juvenile facilities what exactly do we do with people like the three teens that shot a bunch of people in the homeless camp over dope? Do these protesters really think cases like that need counseling or hugs?

    Kids caught shoplifting or taking drugs=Counseling and hugs

    Kids who gun people down=Decades in a cage somewhere

    At some point the safety of Seattle residents takes priority over these kids’ lives- They can be thrown away to keep innocent people safe.

  4. Cliches aside, in 2012 the voters approved a property tax levy for a new juvenile facility. If this movement succeeds in killing that off, I expect that we will get our money refunded, and that there will be a new bond issue proposed for whatever it is they want to do with violent children.

    (Or, more realistically, the county will just build the new facility down in Kent or someplace, and sell the current one off at fair market value for development.)

    I’m all for alternatives to incarcerating children – when there are better alternatives – but I want to see a plan instead of platitudes. In the meantime I want my money back.