With colors, murals, game tables, and art that make the new facility feel like a cross between a new high school and juvenile hall, King County is showing off its new Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center on 12th Ave.
It is also designed, officials say, to slowly transform.
“As we move toward zero youth detention, how we can repurpose space?” one official said during a tour of the new facility’s detention area. “As our population decreases,” she said in the middle of one of the center’s living halls designed to look like dorms but secured for incarceration with electronic locks and state of the art surveillance systems, “we can move our secure perimeter.”
The opening comes after years of opposition to the project and criticism that the county’s approach was outdated and out of step with changing approaches to juvenile justice and incarceration. Construction of the new $200 million-plus facility’s main detention, court, and services building next to the existing youth jail at 12th and Alder wrapped up late last year.
“It’s the first time the space in which juvenile court operates really reflects the care and respect that the people who work here have for the youth and families,” Chief King County Juvenile Court Judge Judith Ramseyer said before a tour of the facility with media.
Ramseyer also acknowledged the “vocal opposition” the new facility has faced and said she hopes the new buildings “welcome the public to observe and participate” in the juvenile justice system.
The new facility has remained under construction throughout the efforts to stop it. On the same campus as the existing juvenile justice center along 12th Ave about a block south of Seattle University, the county has been looking to replace the courthouse and administrative buildings for years. The recession of 2008 held up plans for the expensive project, but the county passed a roughly $210 million levy in 2012.
UPDATE: The population the detention portion of the facility is serving is, indeed, shrinking, according to King County’s latest Detention and Alternatives Report (PDF):
In 2019, the “average daily population” of juveniles held in secure or standard detention, on electronic home detention, or in group care was 43.
In addition to the new 16-dorm living halls, there are new classrooms, and expanded visitation areas where youth offenders can meet with family and lawyers. The Detention School begins daily at 8:30 AM and provides instruction in language arts, math, and the standard fare of middle and high school with the goal to “take them outside the walls academically.”
There is also a new Merit Hall where the detained kids can earn TV time and they have repurposed an “interview room” as a video game room. “This is a space we hope our youth want to be part of,” one official said.
King County Executive Dow Constantine has maintained he is leading necessary change to address issues of race and equity in the youth justice system. CHS reported here on the county’s efforts to show its changing approach to juvenile crime and justice. In 2016, the proportion of black youth in jail decline 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 as multiracial.
Meanwhile, in July, the King County Council voted to name the new Children and Family Justice Center in honor of the late Judge Clark who passed away in 2015.
There are now new floors of identical courtrooms complete with 2020-era state-of-the-art tech and video conferencing. More important for some of the children might be the racks of donated clothing they can choose from — including before their court appearances. Designers also created “a lower bench” and tried to make the courtrooms “friendlier” spaces to try to better connect judges with their galleries.
Construction of the full project will require a few more years to finish. A county spokesperson characterized the project as “about two-thirds complete.” The next phases will bring demolition of the old facility, construction of a new school and parking garage, and creating the Alder Connection “with the associated outdoor public art, landscaping, and amenities.”
The facility is expected to be fully completed by spring of 2021.
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