We ask King County Executive Dow Constantine to withdraw the permit application for construction of the new youth jail. We ask that he redirect the $210 million into community-based solutions.
YOUTH who are incarcerated versus those who are not for similar crimes are more likely to drop out of school, re-enter the criminal justice system, and experience poverty and homelessness. As future policymakers and public leaders, we pledge to advocate for society’s most vulnerable members.
We are taught to recognize the humanity behind numbers, and that policies and budgets should reflect our core values. King County Executive Dow Constantine has been at the forefront of the effort to build the $210-million juvenile detention center.
The University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, one of the highest-ranking public-affairs programs in the nation, invited Constantine as our commencement speaker on June 8. On a day we should be celebrating, many of us will be sitting in angst as we are sent off to our careers by Constantine, whose stance on the new youth jail does not represent our core values of racial and social justice.
As future public administrators, we are dismayed by the deceptiveness of the 2012 ballot initiative approving the jail, the project’s rampantly inflating budget and its misalignment with the county’s stated goal of zero instances of youth incarceration. As public servants dedicated to fighting for social justice and racial equity, we are outraged at the message this sends to the communities this project purports to help.
Half of youth incarcerated in this county are black yet make up only 8 percent of the county’s youth population. The legacy of Seattle and King County governments toward the Central District is tragic and disheartening. From redlining and segregation to mass incarceration, it is time the city and county rectify their relationship with communities of color, and end harmful policies that perpetuate systemic racism — particularly in the Central District.
We believe Constantine’s disconnect from communities he serves undermines the values he is responsible for upholding on behalf of the county. We ask Constantine to withdraw the permit application for construction of the new youth jail. We ask that Constantine redirect the $210 million into community-based solutions.
If those precious resources are invested in preventive programs, we could transform communities and drastically reduce the number of youth arrested. Will there ever be zero youth incarceration? Unlikely. But the scale of this project doesn’t reflect a seriousness by the county to achieve that goal.
If the county intends to reach its goal of zero youth incarceration, let us invest in affordable housing so families of color can live in the neighborhoods they have called home for generations. Let us invest in our schools, so children of color can receive an education that allows them to integrate and prosper in the Puget Sound’s booming and innovative economy. Let us invest in evidence-based rehabilitative and restorative justice interventions that are non-disruptive, culturally competent and recognize that the root cause of a majority of illicit behaviors, and crime, are a result of childhood or trauma.
We must not view at-risk youth as nuisances to be put behind bars. Rather, these children and young adults should be seen as deserving of opportunities, love and support. By investing in community-based solutions, Constantine would live up to the ideals outlined in the King County Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan.
King County prides itself on its progressiveness, innovation and compassion. After all, the county is named for a man who sought to tear down the walls of inequality and oppression built by racist institutions. His dreams were considered unrealistic by many, but he pushed institutions in this country to rethink the legacies they leave for future generations, both white and of color.
Let us set forth on a more compassionate path toward zero youth incarceration by investing in marginalized communities. Constantine, withdraw your support of the new youth jail and embark on a collaborative effort with public servants and communities of color to address the root causes of incarceration. With $210 million, we envision programs tackling homelessness and inadequate educational institutions, and building more just and equitable communities. Can you see our vision?