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High court OKs county property tax to fund youth jail construction at 12th and Alder

Activists at a summer 2018 protest at the 12th and Alder construction site

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled Thursday that King County can continue collecting taxes to fund the construction of its new youth jail at 12th and Alder.

“The 8-0 ruling reversed a lower court’s conclusion that the county had been illegally collecting taxes for the building, a decision that, if upheld, would have created a budget deficit in the tens of millions of dollars,” Crosscut reports.

Activists from Ending the Prison Industrial Complex scored an early legal victory against the funding when an appeals court ruled the county was gathering its funds for the youth jail inappropriately by levying property taxes from an increased base tax that was not clearly stated in the voter-approved proposition.

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Despite the win and growing public support, construction at the Youth and Family Justice Center facility continued.

The new ruling disagreed with that verdict, siding with county officials who said the underlying law approved by voters was clear about which year’s tax base would be used to calculate the increase.

The new facility is under construction on the same campus as the previous juvenile justice center along 12th Ave about a block south of the Seattle University campus. King County has been looking to replace the courthouse and administrative buildings for years, and has built a new jail along with them. The recession of 2008 held up plans for the project until the county passed the $210 million levy in 2012.

Activists have continued to fight against the project. This summer, groups began a call for “a period of redesign” saying the plans for the facility are outdated and out of step with changing approaches to juvenile justice and incarceration. In 2016, the proportion of black youth in jail declined from 58.5% to 49.9%, county officials say. According to U.S. Census figures, about 7% of the county population is black and another 5% identified a multiracial.

King County plans for the new facility to be open by 2020.

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