Constantine reveals $4 million proposed budget to fund programs aimed at helping achieve his goal of 'zero youth detention.'

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Vowing a “refusal to accept any kid as a lost cause,” King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled a Roadmap to Zero Youth Detention at a Wednesday news conference.

Flanked by county officials, Constantine announced $4 million in proposed new investments to support the county’s aspirational goal of no longer jailing young offenders by focusing on preventative programs and mental-health services for youth, while holding them accountable for their actions.

“[Zero Youth Detention] compels us to ask how can we provide justice for the victim and protect the community, while offering the best chance for redemption,” Constantine said in prepared remarks at the beginning of the news conference.  “How can we best ensure a different outcome for the next kid.”

To that end, a quarter of the proposed $4 million included in the county’s 2019-2020 biannual budget would be parceled out to community organizations diverting youth out of secure detention. Another $700,000 would flow to mental-health and substance-abuse programs treating youth prior to them facing prosecution. Currently, youth are only eligible for such treatment after prosecutors have filed charges against them.

That amount stands in stark contrast to the proposed $210 million the county is talking about spending to build a new youth detention facility even as Constantine talks of a day when young offenders won’t be jailed at all.

The largest chunk, $1.4 million, will go to Public Health – Seattle & King County, the department tasked with tracking the county’s progress in juvenile detention reduction.

The remainder will be spread out between family support services and preexisting programs, including the Community Empowered Disposition Alternative and Resolution (CEDAR) program.
CEDAR aids youth who have committed first-time felonies such as robbery, assault and vehicular theft, and later engaged in community-based interventions have their charges reduced or altogether dismissed.

The roadmap has been in the works for nearly a year and a half, following Constantine’s State of the County address in March 2017. The executive’s office assembled a leadership cohort of representatives from King County Superior Court, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Department of Public Defense and the King County Sheriff’s Office to gather public input and outline practical solutions.

Also influencing the roadmap were the results of a survey of 2,100 King County residents, as well as feedback elicited from town-hall-style meetings and focus groups with an additional 180 participants.

The road map lists five main objectives: Lead with racial equity; prevent youth from entering the juvenile justice system by focusing on systems such as the school and justice system; divert youth from initial and further encounters with law enforcement; support youth and families to reduce recurrence of legal system involvement; and align connections between systems to increase effectiveness.

The roadmap’s last objective may be its most important, according to Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield who sees collaboration between the county, judicial and school systems as paramount to the success of the county’s goal.

“When a kid gets in trouble, why does no one say at any point, ‘Why are you getting stoned? Or why are you acting this way?’ ” asked Enfield, referencing various elements that might propel a child into a life of trouble, including familial, community environment and negative interactions with law enforcement propelling a child into a life of trouble.

Two youths, who once lived that life, were also in attendance on Wednesday speaking in support of the roadmap.

“I got involved in things I was in because I didn’t have anyone telling me, ‘How come you’re not in school.’ Jail is an easy route for people who don’t have support,” said Jamari Webb McDaniel, 18.
Webb McDaniel was involved in the juvenile-justice system before entering a diversionary program, Community Passageways, which previously received money from the county as part of its push toward zero detention.

Maryem Weini, 18, who also was in trouble and in the system, saw value in the proposed roadmap, saying that it was a call for everyone from parents to teachers to community members to be “in the game” of youth incarceration reduction as opposed to cheerleaders.

Even without the roadmap, the county has made strides in juvenile detention reduction over the past two decades. The average daily incarcerated population in King County was 187 youth in 1998, with capacity for nearly 220 youth. Today, it is a hair under 50 youth (49.9) according to county data.

However, critics of the county’s effort still point to an increase in racial disproportionality attached to the county’s juvenile justice system. In 2002 a youth of color was 2.6 times more likely to be detained than a Caucasian offender. Today they are 5.6 times as likely.

The stubborn disproportionality left some critics unimpressed by Wednesday’s announcement.

“What is a $4 million-dollar investment in a so-called ‘zero detention road map’ while you’re investing 70 times that amount into the school-to-prison pipeline?” asked Julie Chang Schulman, a past organizer with the No New Youth Jail movement. Until Constantine stops construction of the proposed $210 million-dollar juvenile detention facility in Seattle’s Central District. and invests a similar amount into incarceration alternatives, Schulman said, the rhetoric surrounding “zero youth detention” is “disingenuous.”

Constantine also continues to face criticism from those who see zero youth detention as a pipe dream, especially for kids charged with murder. He acknowledges that the path may be long but also says the target is a worthy yardstick.

Public Health – Seattle  and King County will create a dashboard on its website this winter for the public to monitor the progress of the county’s goal.