The Seattle City Council president is questioning King County’s plan to build the new youth detention center in the Central Area. He says he will meet with the County Council president to look at other options.
Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell says he wants King County officials to reconsider their plan for building a new youth-detention center in the Central Area.
Harrell will meet with Metropolitan King County Council President Joe McDermott as soon as next week to ask about other options, he said in an interview Friday, expanding on comments he made Thursday night during a public event with civil-rights activist Angela Davis.
Davis voiced support at the Town Hall Seattle event for local activists who have been opposing the new youth jail. When a member of the audience asked Harrell about the project, he said he would be asking county officials to go back to the drawing board.
“I’m hoping they’re willing to have that conversation,” Harrell said Friday.
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Other City Council members have spoken out against the county’s plan in the past and in recent weeks.
Kshama Sawant cast the council’s lone vote in 2014 against a land-use ordinance allowing the project to proceed and has continued to oppose it.
Last month, after the city’s construction department issued a decision approving the county’s request for a permit, City Councilmember Mike O’Brien called on county officials to rethink their plan.
The project has been in the works for years. In 2012, county voters approved a $210 million levy to replace the county’s existing youth courthouse and detention center, and the plan has been to build a new complex on the same site as the existing facilities.
State law requires the county to maintain a detention center for youth.
On Friday, Harrell said his stance is nothing new. He said he personally voted against the 2012 ballot measure and noted that the City Council in 2015 adopted a resolution endorsing a vision of Seattle as a city with zero youth detention.
Harrell’s intention to meet with McDermott comes amid ramped-up activism by the project’s opponents. They protested outside Mayor Ed Murray’s house last month and are appealing the construction department’s permitting decision.
Proponents make a compelling argument for the project, Harrell said. The existing courthouse is dilapidated and the existing detention center is grim.
The new detention center would be friendlier, with fewer beds and better services, county officials say. Harrell said be believes violent youth must be held in custody. But the county is jailing fewer and fewer children, and research shows incarceration is bad for youth, Harrell said. He said he wants the county to develop a more creative plan.
Harrell mentioned the possibility of siting two smaller detention centers in other parts of the county and using the Central Area site for restorative-justice programs.