Macklemore is lending his voice to an effort to stop King County from building a new youth jail, and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is distancing himself from a decision about a permit for the project.

Share story

Macklemore is lending his voice to an effort to stop King County from building a new youth courthouse and jail in Seattle.

The Seattle rapper backed the effort Wednesday on Twitter and Facebook, urging his followers to sign and share an internet petition.

The petition asks King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to reconsider their support for the project. It had more than 2,000 supporters late Wednesday night.

It says the city should deny the county the master-use permit that it needs in order to move ahead. A decision on the permit is expected Thursday.

“We should focus on alternatives to youth incarceration,” Macklemore wrote on Twitter, where he has 2.78 million followers.

The South Seattle Emerald first reported the rapper speaking out.

In 2012, voters approved a $210 million levy to replace the county’s existing courthouse and detention center at 12th Avenue East and East Alder Street in the Central Area.

Proponents of the project say the existing detention center is outdated and dilapidated. They say the detention facility in the new juvenile-justice complex, formally known as the Children and Family Justice Center, will be better.

Opponents say voters were misled in 2012 by a ballot title that didn’t mention detention and an explanatory statement that didn’t include the word “jail.” They object to youth incarceration, particularly in a county where black youth are much more likely to be detained than youth of other races.

When Constantine trimmed the number of beds planned for the new detention facility from nearly 150 to 112 last year, he said the county was detaining many fewer youth than it used to.

But he acknowledged that black youth represented just 10 percent of the county’s juveniles and 50 percent of its detainees.

“Countless studies have proved that youth incarceration is not the answer,” the “Don’t Cage Kids: No New Youth Jail in King County” petition says.

“It perpetuates a vicious cycle of criminalizing young folks; incarcerating a youth for low-level crimes makes them more likely to re-offend than those who were not incarcerated. Furthermore, incarcerating young people deepens the racial disparity inherent to the criminal justice system.”

In a statement Wednesday, Murray sought to distance himself from the permit decision.

“The city of Seattle issues nearly 800 master-use permits annually. Those permits are issued by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections according to technical criteria having to do solely with land use and environmental issues,” the mayor said.

“The office of the mayor cannot intervene in any permitting decision, including this one, as it is a technical decision based on the county’s application.”

Murray added, “I recognize that significant racial disparities exist in our city and the ultimately our goal is to keep all young people from entering the criminal justice system and I will continue to direct city resources to ending these disparities.”

Opponents of the new youth jail protested outside Murray’s house Tuesday night. Their fight against the master-use permit began more than a year ago and is the latest in a series of attempts to stop the project from clearing various regulatory hurdles.