Later on, the county executive announced Public Health - Seattle & King County would take over youth-jail programming. He also said he wants to make Metro Transit a stand-alone department.
King County Executive Dow Constantine abruptly canceled his State of the County address Monday after demonstrators who want to stop the building of a new youth jail showed up at the annual event.
Later in the day, Constantine announced that programming for the county’s existing youth jail would be taken over by its public-health agency.
In a news release, he said the move would make sure young people “who may have stumbled are able to catch their step, regain their balance and find their stride.”
The executive planned to speak at the Burien Library during a special meeting of the Metropolitan King County Council, and dozens of guests arrived ready to hear him.
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Demonstrators there Monday morning held signs calling on Constantine to halt the county’s project, which they say will perpetuate incarceration and disproportionately harm youth of color.
The executive never took the stage.
“Due to protests,” Constantine instead spoke in private to a smaller group of officials and community leaders, spokesman Alex Fryer said.
That gathering was held at Burien City Hall, upstairs from the library. Andrea Marcos, a media liaison for the No New Youth Jail Coalition, slammed the decision.
“We think the cancellation and the closed-door meeting shows his continued, unaccountable approach over the last six years,” Marcos said.
Voters in 2012 approved a $210 million property-tax levy to replace the county’s existing juvenile-justice complex at 12th Avenue and East Alder Street in Seattle.
Foes of the new youth courthouse and detention center now being built at the same location have demonstrated against the project ever since, adding pressure for reforms.
They say the county should stop construction and engage in a community dialogue about using the money and the site to support young people in other ways, such as investing more in restorative-justice programs.
In the news release Monday afternoon, Constantine said Public Health – Seattle & King County would oversee all programming at the existing youth jail, taking over from the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.
The shift has been in the works since November, when the executive directed the public-health agency to help plan a reorganization.
Though most young people are held no longer than five days, “any length of time in detention can be traumatic,” Constantine said in a written State of the County address released by his office along with a video of him delivering the speech in a studio.
“We must do better for them,” he said.
In the speech, the executive highlighted the county’s rapid growth, including $10 billion in construction projects last year.
To help respond, Constantine wants to make Metro Transit a stand-alone department, breaking it away from the Department of Transportation, he said.
And he wants to create a new Department of Local Services to handle permitting, environmental reviews, community services, roads and bridges for the quarter-million people who live in unincorporated areas of King County.
Promising to submit legislation to the council, Constantine described his plan as “a major restructuring of county government.”
Early last month, the opponents of the new youth-detention center shut down intersections in downtown Seattle to protest the project. Last week, they blockaded the construction site and staged other actions.
Marcos said the goal Monday was to keep the heat on Constantine.
“We’re talking about the lives of youth and families for the next 50 years,” Marcos said. “Jails don’t heal people … It’s not too late for King County to change direction.”
Constantine’s office sought less media attention leading up to his speech than in past years and didn’t widely publicize where and when it would be. Fryer cited the “pace of protests” as a reason.
The executive has argued the new jail will be better, with fewer beds and more amenities than the existing facility.
Diversion and restorative-justice programs have helped the county reduce its detention of young people in recent times — from an average daily population of more than 187 in 1998 to 50 last year, but black youth are overrepresented.