Maybe taking the protest to Mayor Ed Murray’s North Capitol Hill neighborhood really did make a difference. When it comes to a proposed new youth jail at 12th and Alder, the mayor is now woke:
I have learned that since the passage of the County-wide levy in 2012, a consensus has grown among juvenile justice experts that incarceration is harmful and counterproductive. Incarceration decreases the chances of high school completion, increases risk of recidivism, and is associated with worse physical and mental health outcomes for youth. Due to the racial disproportionately that exists in the youth detention center, these injuries are concentrated in the Black community.
The Stranger broke the news Monday on a letter from Murray to King County officials calling for a “second look” at the controversial 12th Ave project.
“While I recognize that an immediate transition to zero youth incarceration is unrealistic, I have some concerns about the current plans for the detention facility given our joint goals of working toward zero detention,” Murray writes. “The landscape of research on best practices and intervention strategies points to mounting evidence against incarcerating young people that was not known at the time this facility was being planned. This new evidence, the continued decline of incarcerated youth in our community, and the need for considering public concerns all point toward reexamining aspects of this facility.”
Black youth in King County are 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 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. The plans for the revamped facility have already been partially shaped for changes in the approach to youth detention. Already planned for 144 beds vs. the current facility’s 210, The county slashed another 32 beds from the plan in 2015. Officials say the true capacity will be even smaller — with room for less than 100. The facility will also include ten courtrooms for criminal legal hearings involving youth.
In the letter addressed to Murray ally King County Executive Dow Constantine and superior court Judge Laura Inveen, Murray asks officials “to consider a second look at the facility design” and “convene a table for dialogue among various interests and perspectives to explore whether there are practical options or modifications to consider that will better create the kind of environment needed to meet the needs of those young people who become engaged in our criminal justice system.”
Constantine has responded with a letter of his own calling for “community Peacemaking Circles” to “inform” the county’s next steps on the project with ideas including “developing more housing options for youth charged with non-violent crimes, emphasizing therapeutic care, creating more robust community reviews of the detention population, devising new alternatives to detention, and helping youth take responsibility for their actions.”
In the meantime, Constantine said, there are still important decisions to be made about technical aspects of the project’s design before construction, referring to the current “pause for the city Hearing Examiner to review the Children and Family Justice Center.” CHS reported here on the appeal brought by activists seeking to block permitting of the project because of what they say are improper variances and concerns about contaminated soil on the property under the existing, and still operational county youth jail facility.