Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Columbia Legal Services and King County's Department of Public Defense among more than 120 groups that oppose building the facility.
High-profile rights groups, including one that works on behalf of immigrants, have joined activists trying to stop construction on a prison for youth that’s being built in Seattle’s Central District.
Demonstrators on Tuesday gathered outside the construction site on 14th Avenue, just blocks away from Garfield High School, to reassert their disapproval of spending public money to build the facility instead of directing the funds to other needs such as housing. The umbrella effort, referred to as the People’s Moratorium, announced that more than 120 groups have joined the cause, including Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Columbia Legal Services and King County’s Department of Public Defense.
The rally is the latest effort by the No New Youth Jail Coalition to stop the project. In 2012, voters approved a $210 million levy to pay for a replacement of the existing juvenile-justice complex, of which $40 million was slated for the detention portion of the Children and Family Justice Center. The remainder was planned to fund courtrooms and community resources.
The office of King County Executive Dow Constantine has said the county has reduced the juvenile population by 70 percent over the past 20 years and is committed to reducing it further. The new jail would offer an expanded space for supportive programs that “will connect even more youth and families to community-based services.”
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State law requires the county to maintain a youth-detention center, and supporters of the new center say it will have fewer beds and more amenities than the existing facility.
“This is wrong. This is harmful. This is traumatizing,” activist and former mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver said at the rally outside the Children and Family Justice Center, which is being built to replace the aging Youth Services Center. “This system is inherently broken.”
Opponents of the new detention center have filed a number of legal challenges to the project, including one over the language presented to voters who approved the measure and a second contesting the city’s issuance of a master-use permit for the project.
The appeal against the permit’s issuance was dealt a legal blow in May when the state Court of Appeals sided with an earlier King County Superior Court ruling that determined it missed the filing deadline. Opponents also claim King County provided flawed language in the ballot measure to approve construction and that voters had actually only authorized collecting property taxes for the project for one year.
King County spokesman Alex Fryer has said the county believes voters understood that it was a 9-year-levy they approved.
“This facility and all prisons are vestiges of slavery,” Merf Ehman, the director of Columbia Legal Services, an advocacy group that last week endorsed the People’s Moratorium, said at Tuesday’s rally. “We want to use the law to dismantle these facilities.”