Changes to how quickly some juvenile arrests are reviewed by a judge and the type of warrants issued when a juvenile fails to appear in court were launched last week. Both are incremental steps in reducing the number of King County kids who get locked up in juvenile detention.

Share story

Keeping more kids from even being booked into juvenile detention, particularly young people of color, is the impetus behind two changes launched within the past week that build on more than a decade of reforms to King County’s juvenile-justice system.

The first change is the addition of an evening on-call judge, which will impact maybe two youths a week, said King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Susan Craighead.

But the second change — which was proposed by the county’s Department of Public Defense — could see 250 or more juveniles avoid detention each year through a reduction in arrest warrants that result in automatic lockup.

The changes won’t impact juveniles being held in detention for serious, violent offenses like murder, rape or robbery.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

“The research is really clear — being in detention is bad for kids, and every effort should be made to get kids out of detention if there’s a safe way to do it,” said Craighead.

With the first change, the hope is that by allowing certain cases to be reviewed after hours by an on-call judge, juveniles who would most likely be released from detention after their first court appearance would be spared from having to spend one night — or three, if they’re booked late on a Friday — in detention.

Juveniles who are locked up, even for one night, must undergo a strip search, change into a uniform, sleep in a locked room and interact with other juveniles who are being held on more-serious charges — a scary experience that can be traumatizing and have a negative impact on a young person’s self-esteem, Craighead said.

After police arrest a juvenile, intake criteria is used to determine if that youth is eligible for detention — a first-time shoplifting arrest won’t send a kid to lockup, but riding around in a stolen car likely would, explained Katherine Hurley, a supervisor in the juvenile unit for the King County Department of Public Defense.

If a juvenile isn’t eligible for detention, he or she is released and later sent a summons to appear in court.

But if a juvenile is deemed eligible for detention, a risk assessment is then conducted to determine that young person’s risk of failing to appear in court and risk of committing another crime, Hurley said.

The assessment, which takes into account things like the seriousness of a crime and a juvenile’s criminal and warrant history, scores the juvenile on a scale, Hurley said. The score helps guide a judge in deciding whether to release a juvenile or order him or her detained, and 80 percent of juveniles with low scores and little criminal history are released.

“The main function of this judge is trying to expedite release of kids who, in all likelihood, are going to released either the next day or the next business day,” Hurley said.

The second change — related to juvenile warrants — is expected to be more significant and will hopefully reduce the number of African-American juveniles from ending up in detention.

Unlike the adult system, there is no bail in the juvenile system.

In the juvenile system, there are two types of arrest warrants that can be issued for those who fail to show up to court: Tier 1 warrants require that a juvenile be held in detention and sent before a judge for review; and Tier 2 warrants allow juveniles to receive a new court date and be released without being booked into detention.

In 2015, King County Juvenile Court issued 518 Tier 1 warrants, and 56 percent went to African Americans, according to the Department of Public Defense. There were 112 Tier 2 warrants issued last year.

The most likely court hearing a juvenile will miss is arraignment, according to Craighead and Hurley. That’s because it can be weeks or months between the time a juvenile is arrested and charged with a crime, and in that time, families move and situations change, leading to a number of juveniles ending up in detention because they didn’t receive a summons in the mail notifying them of a court date.

“Many times our youth are homeless or couch-surfing or transient and by the time the prosecutor files charges, you’ve moved,” Craighead said.

Offenses involving firearms or allegations of sexual motivation aren’t eligible for Tier 2 warrants. Failing to show up for a fact-finding hearing or disposition hearing — the juvenile equivalent of trial or sentencing — would also make a juvenile ineligible for a Tier 2 warrant.

The hope is to decrease Tier 1 warrants while expanding the use of Tier 2 warrants, Craighead said.

“We expect 250 to be handled as Tier 2 instead of Tier 1, but it could be better than that,” she said.

The changes are a continuation of work by local officials with the help of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), created by the Baltimore-based Anne C. Casey Foundation. Craighead credited the initiative with helping King County drastically reduce the average daily population of juveniles in detention.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.