WA-BLOC co-founder Jerrell Davis carries a sign during a short march to a staging area for a demonstration, where he talked about restorative justice and zero detention.
WA-BLOC co-founder Jerrell Davis carries a sign during a short march to a staging area for a demonstration, where he talked about restorative justice and zero detention.

When word came down that the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections was slated to issue its decision on a King County application clearing the way for construction of the $210 million Children and Family Justice Center just before Christmas, project opponents were pressed for time in making an appeal.

“We did get it together,” said Nikkita Oliver, a case manager with Creative Justice, a 4Culture Public Art initiative that offers art-based alternatives to youth detention. “There are more organizations that have contacted us post Jan. 5 to sign on.”

The appeal was filed on Wednesday, Jan. 4, by Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC Seattle) and multiple other community organizations. Oliver said the number of organizations to join the cause has grown to more than 60.

EPIC led a demonstration outside the King County Youth Detention Facility on Wednesday, Jan. 11, addressing its desire for restorative justice and to stop construction plans for the Children and Family Justice Center, which organizers consider an overpriced jail for racially targeted youth.

Voters approved a nine-year property tax lid lift to replace the aging Youth Services Center in Seattle's Central District in 2012.

The county council approved authorizing King County Executive Dow 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.

King County spokesperson Alexa Vaughn told the Capitol Hill Times during Wednesday’s demonstration there are currently no plans to revise the design.

Oliver said the detention center currently averages 30 youth incarcerations at any time, while the new facility calls for 120 beds. Vaughn said the actual number of beds is 112, and a 2016 Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention report states the average detention population at 51 juveniles.

“There was like a day in December where the juvenile detention was 30,” she said. “Overall, the average is going down, which is good news for everyone.”

Rather than be called the opposition, Oliver said groups against the CFJC are proposing restorative justice programs they believe are solutions for achieving zero detention.

“We’re solution builders,” Oliver told CHT, “but if you haven’t been listened to ever, you have to make sure your words are heard and elevated.”

Activists opposed to the CFJC note that Seattle Public Schools is facing a $74.2 million deficit in the 2017-18 school year, and filling that funding gap should be prioritized over what Senait Brown with EPIC Seattle called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” (Note: The Seattle Public Schools board on Wednesday night reached consensus to reduce its deficit to $11.1 million if the state does not take action to fill the gap by Feb. 28.)

“We’re here to say that your silence will not protect you,” Brown told Wednesday’s crowd of #NoNewYouthJail supporters. “Your silence will not protect you.”

Brown said the communities most affected by the racial disparity in youth incarceration in King County need to be granted the capacity to create their own alternatives.

Oliver lauded creative Justice and the 180

Program, created by African-American community leaders and funded King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, as two community-led alternatives to detention that are working.

“Both of those programs are actually incredibly effective,” she said.

Activists also expressed disappointment with the Seattle City Council, which approved legislation 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.

A #NoNewYouthJail protest was held outside Mayor Ed Murray’s Capitol Hill home prior to the SDCI decision, asking him to block the permits. Murray responded the following day with a statement that his office could not intervene in the department’s technical decision, which is based on land use and environmental issues.

The EPIC appeal does cite technical issues with the project, stating mitigation imposed under the State Environmental Policy Act is inadequate to mitigate the impacts from toxins and hazardous materials, traffic, parking and noise, among other things.

SDCI requested King County provide additional documentation regarding mitigation before making its decision, being that juveniles and county staff will remain on site during demolition of the current structures at 1211 E. Alder St., and construction of the Children and Family Justice Center. Contaminants found in portions of the Youth Services Center include asbestos, lead-containing paints, polychlorinate biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury.

Jill Mangaliman with the environmental justice organization Got Green said during the Jan. 11 demonstration that the CFJC site also has contaminated soil and groundwater, much of the area around it being the same.

“There are carcinogens in our ground,” she said, “and I see they’re doing construction over there, which is exposing us to it now in the Central District.”

The SDCI decision found additional mitigation plans by King County were adequate to mitigate hazardous materials removal from the site during demolition and the removal of 131,400 cubic yards of excavation materials.

The mayor’s communications director, Benton Strong, issued a release for Murray shortly after the Jan. 11 demonstration, making statements similar to his Dec. 21 release. It also states the city will not defend SDCI’s land use decision should King County withdraw its application following the appeal made to the Hearing Examiner. 

“Addressing systemic racial disparities, including those in our criminal justice system, continues to be a priority for Mayor Murray’s administration,” reads a portion of the statement. “We remain specifically focused on better connecting our youth with jobs and career pathways and supporting all local efforts to expand alternatives to incarceration such as Family Intervention and Restorative Services and Youth LINC, to offer coordinated service to at-risk youth. Additionally, Mayor Murray plans to transmit legislation for accountability reform in our police department in the coming weeks, as we work toward our goal of repairing the relationship between police and our community.”

District 3 Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant expressed solidarity with the #NoNewYouthJail movement in a tweet Wednesday, asking the King County Council to deny construction of the CFJC.

No action has been taken by the Seattle City Council to stop construction of the CFJC, but it did grant $500,000 to EPIC in 2015, following passage of its zero-detention legislation, which Brown said was dispersed to a number of community organizations working on restorative justice programs.

One speaker on Wednesday was Jerrell Davis, co-founder of the Washington Building Leaders of Change (WA-BLOC) program — An EPIC Giving Circle recipient — and the Rainier Beach Action Coalition at Rainier Beach High School.

Davis addressed the successes of Restorative Circles practice, which involves a community support process in guided circle discussions to determine effective actions.

“At Rainier Beach, we’re implementing this inter-generationally; we have an intergenerational governance model,” he said of restorative justice efforts at RBHS, “where we say we need to uplift our freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors — they’re all being trained in circle practice. They’re being trained to be circle keepers. We’re also training our teachers, our staff, our administration, right? We have to learn that circles are not only for conflict, but they’re also for peace-keeping, they’re also for community building, and we have a number of teachers at Rainier Beach that have started to implement this in their classrooms.”

Davis said the $210 million would be better spent supporting children, rather than incarcerating them, adding it would only cost around $1 million to renovate the current facility.

“When we (King County) did analysis for the need for the project,” Vaughn said, “we compared the cost of renovating the current center and building a whole new center; the cost was about the same.”

While there are 112 beds designed into the Children and Family Justice Center, Vaughn said the detention side of the facility is designed with flexibility to convert portions of its square footage for non-detention purposes. When the youth detention center reduced its bed count in 2015, Vaughn said 10,200 square feet was repurposed for the Family Intervention and Restorative Services (FIRS) pilot program, which addresses domestic violence committed by youth.

“It’s not confirmed yet what programs would be in this space, but it could accommodate something like FIRS,” Vaughn said.

Appellants also challenge the allowance by SDCI to construct the CFJC building past the maximum 150-foot width in the site’s current low-rise zoning to 275 feet. King County successfully argued the need for courts and detention housing to have specific relationships to other functions within the facility, such as social services, recreational areas, staff offices, food service and educational facilities. 

A four-story parking structure with 360 stalls is also part of the project. Find out more about the CFJC  project here.

A time does not appear to have been set for the appeal to come before the Hearing Examiner. Oliver said a legal fund has been set up, with other potential legal action pending.

Appeal Statement EPIC by branax2000 on Scribd