King County’s proposed juvenile detention center is too large. It would be better for the county to use the resources to connect youth with services to meet their needs.
THE Times’ recent editorial [“Detention center foes ignore benefits, facts,” Dec. 22] cavalierly dismissing the legitimate concerns about King County’s plan to build a new youth detention center is right about one thing: The county has dramatically reduced its population of detained youth in recent years.
It has done so by asking hard questions about how to protect the community while connecting youth and their families to the services they need. The ongoing protests advance this process, keeping critical questions in the forefront of public discussion.
The fact that state law requires the county to maintain a detention center for youth does not justify building a facility that would be approximately three-quarters empty today and would be almost twice as large as the average daily population for the past two years. The current scale of the project is inconsistent with the evidence-based, community-oriented approach that has driven recent successes.Diverting resources in this way can only prolong the county’s persistent failure to eliminate racial disparities in its detention practices.
Of course, detained youth should receive high-quality, trauma-sensitive, individualized care that ensures their detention is as brief as possible and responsive to their needs. However, the mental-health issues that cause so many youths to wind up in the justice system and, more specifically, to languish and suffer in detention, can be far more effectively addressed through the development of community-based, family-centered programs.
And, instead of building unneeded detention space, the county could dedicate resources to ensure that youth leaving detention are more effectively reconnected to their schools and thus less likely to experience deeper or repeated involvement in the justice system.
The Times editorial board makes far too much of the fact that there was no organized opposition to the proposal for the new facility when the county’s voters approved it.
Diverting resources in this way can only prolong the county’s persistent failure to eliminate racial disparities in its detention practices.”
In the years since that vote, a string of tragedies across the country — and the mobilization in response to them — have forced a critical reappraisal of the ways in which our habitual criminal-justice practices not only fail but actively harm our communities, and in particular, the poor and people of color. The protests around the detention center are a critical local element of this process.
They challenge us to experience the incarceration of any youth as a collective failure and call us to do more to make such failures even rarer than they are today.
A man who routinely perpetuates false racist claims of ongoing waves of crime will soon be inaugurated as president of the United States. That fact only underscores the necessity for a community such as King County, with its commitment to racial equity and social justice, to seek with ever greater ambition to break from conventional models and offer an essential alternative, even if that means making the difficult decision to change course at this stage of the process with respect to the detention center.