A youth detention center cell that was repurposed for the Family Intervention and Restorative Services pilot program that started last year.
A youth detention center cell that was repurposed for the Family Intervention and Restorative Services pilot program that started last year.

King County Executive Dow Constantine says he didn’t expect Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Monday letter requesting a “second look” at plans for a new Children and Family Justice Center, but he did respond in kind with a statement regarding the county’s efforts to achieve zero youth detention.

The $210 million facility is being funded through a nine-year levy lid lift voters approved in 2012 to replace the aging Youth Services Center in the Central District.

The county council approved authorizing Constantine to execute a phase one contract with the Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) design-builder in February 2015, and a master use permit application was submitted that August.

Prior to a December decision by the Seattle Department of Construction and Permits clearing the master use permit, opponents to the new youth jail demonstrated outside Murray’s Capitol Hill residence. Murray responded the next day with a statement that SDCI could only assess the permit application based on technical criteria, “and not on any policy considerations.”

SDCI issued its decision approving the master use permit on Dec. 22. On Jan. 4, Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC Seattle) and other community activist groups filed an appeal. King County Executive Services spokesperson Alexa Vaughn tells the Capitol Hill Times a hearing date on the MUP appeal is expected to occur in June.

“We’re assessing what work authorized under separate permits can move forward before the MUP appeal is resolved,” Vaughn stated in an email to CHT on Tuesday.

Murray issued a letter (See below) to Constantine and King County Superior Court Judge Laura Inveen on Monday, asking that they reassess the CFJC design while the project is stalled in the appeals process, and convene a multidisciplinary team to focus more on restorative justice programs and other measures to achieve zero youth detention.

The Seattle City Council passed a Zero Use of Detention for Youth resolution in September 2015, calling for the end of juvenile detention in the city as recommended by Seattle's Office for Civil Rights in its Racial Equity Analysis of the CFJC.

Constantine issued a statement Monday night that lays out steps the county is taking in its continued efforts to reduce the number of offenders in juvenile detention, including asking the county council to adopt its own goal of zero youth detention.

“The difference is, we’re the ones who actually have to implement things,” Constantine told the Capitol Hill Times on Tuesday, adding a third of the county’s youth in juvenile detention come from arrests made by the Seattle Police Department. “If the city of Seattle really wants zero youth detention, they can start by not booking any youth. We’ll see how that goes.”

Murray’s letter does give credit to the King County Juvenile Justice Steering Committee for a large reduction in youth incarceration through restorative justice programs. The county reports the average daily juvenile detention population has decreased by more than 70 percent since the 1990s, and by 16 percent last year compared to 2015.

“We’ve been working on a whole suite of opportunities for quite a while now,” Constantine said. “In fact, it’s been a nonstop effort by the county for several decades. … This year is looking better, as we continue to put in place new strategies — new alternatives — to divert youth who have wandered into trouble.”

The county executive said many youth facing low-level offenses are not being detained at the juvenile detention center, and one of the greatest challenges to zero detention now is how to deal with violent offenders. Constantine visited the detention center last week, where he said at least two youth are charged with homicide.

“People had been charged with rape, with rape of a child, many, many people that have stolen, particularly cars, by pointing a gun at people’s heads,” Constantine said, adding youth are not being put in cells for shoplifting or truancy.

The more violent the crimes or alleged offenses, the more difficult it is to find alternatives to incarceration, Constantine said.

The county executive, in his statement, reported he will be among a number of county officials to join community advocates and youth jail opponents in Peacemaking Circles to discuss new approaches to achieving zero detention.

The King County Prosecutor’s Office celebrated the completion of its first felony participant in the Peacemaking Circles restorative justice pilot program in October. The 15-year-old defendant was facing two years in jail for first-degree robbery with a deadly weapon.

Saroeum Phuong introduced the concept of Peacemaking Circles — a series of intensive meetings, conversations, counseling sessions and opportunities for self-reflection — to King County more than a year ago. Constantine said he’s retained Phuong to help facilitate the Peacemaking Circles that will explore more actions to reduce juvenile detention in the county.

“He believes that there is a great deal of opportunity here for us to find even more common ground and more ways to get kids back on track,” Constantine said.

Addressing juvenile offenders through more therapeutic, community-focused approaches has to happen somewhere, Constantine said. The Children and Family Justice Center has been designed in a way that will allow for detention space to be repurposed for counseling, office space and other programming as the population of incarcerated juveniles goes down, he said.

Youth accused of domestic violence against family members and guardians are being channeled through the Family Intervention and Restorative Services pilot program, which repurposed a wing of the current detention center last year for a respite center, where juveniles can cool off and be connected with counseling and other services. The FIRS program will carry over to the new facility.

Constantine said allowing youth to continue occupying the current Youth Services Center is not an option for him.

“It is decrepit. It is, I think, dangerous, and it is not a place that I want kids to have to be any longer than necessary,” the county executive said, adding CFJC opponents have falsely been arguing that renovating the current facility would only cost around $1 million. “It is also incredibly expensive to bring up to code, to make habitable; much more expensive than creating a new building.”

 

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