Under continued pressure over plans to build a new youth jail, the King County Executive on Monday proposed two new community centers where youth accused of lesser offenses could be taken instead of jail.
Facing continued opposition to plans to build a new youth jail and courthouse, King County Executive Dow Constantine Monday proposed creating two new centers where juveniles accused of lesser offenses could receive services instead of detention.
Making his annual State of the County address in Auburn, Constantine said the “Safe Spaces” proposal is modeled on a successful program in Portland and would connect youth to housing, education and other services designed to get them back on track.
“King County’s leaders are united in pushing forward with the best ideas in juvenile-justice reform as we walk this road together,” Constantine said.
The “Safe Spaces,” also known as reception centers, would not take the place of the planned, new, juvenile-justice complex that includes a 112-unit detention facility, as well as courtrooms for juveniles and family-law clients and attorneys.
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Voters approved a $210 million levy for the new youth jail and courthouse in 2012 to replace the aging juvenile-justice facility in the Central Area. But some community members have opposed the plan, saying minority youth are disproportionately incarcerated and should receive support and services instead.
Some politicians, including Seattle City Council Member Bruce Harrell and County Council member Rod Dembowski, have also called for the plans to be scrapped.
A hearing examiner earlier this month turned down what was believed to be the final appeal of the building permits for the new facility, saying the city permits weren’t subject to appeal.
But Monday, the city reversed course and asked the hearing examiner to reconsider that ruling, saying the City Council intended that the permits face legal review.
King County signed a $154 million construction contract for the new juvenile-justice facility with the firm Howard S. Wright in February 2015.
King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Laura Inveen said Monday that state statute requires the county to have a secure detention facility, and that the courts have a responsibility to protect the community from violent offenders. She said Constantine’s proposal for safe spaces has not been formally discussed by the judges or a committee that includes county officials and community members convened to address racial disparity in the juvenile-justice system.
During his annual address, Constantine said that shouting, “Zero youth detention,” as some protesters have done over the past few years, “is not a plan.” Nor, he said, are county assurances that government will do better.
He did not detail costs for the safe-spaces proposal, nor where the funding would come from, but county staff said the executive would likely submit a supplemental budget request to the County Council later this spring.
The safe spaces would serve as an alternative to detention for low-level offenses such as school fights, shoplifting and youth who violate a court order by running away from a foster or group home. County staff said that on average, two youths are detained for violating a court order every day, and there now are no other housing options for them, except detention.
Constantine proposed that one center be located in Seattle and another in the south end of the county, where an increasing number of juvenile offenders are from.
Dr. Eric Trupin, a UW professor who specializes in child and youth mental-health and public policy, said that strategies that redirect youth and their families away from juvenile court and toward more services, support, coaching and resources “are a good thing.” He expressed hope that the definition of “lesser offenses” be flexible enough to include other youths who could also benefit from diversion.
Trupin said such safe spaces are effective to the extent that they are created with strong community input and operate using practices proven to work with juveniles and their families.
Constantine held out hope in his address that the county’s new Best Starts for Kids levy, approved in November 2015, would help support children before they become involved in the justice system.
He called out the Nurse-Family Partnership, which provides home visits to new moms, as one program that helps families, and introduced one of the young mothers who received support, Anjelica Solis Calderon.
With help from a county-supported social worker, Calderon learned about job opportunities in the health field, became a certified nursing assistant to help support her 3-month-old daughter and is now exploring nursing school.