In a letter Monday to County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Laura Inveen, Murray stopped short of opposing the project outright but said the county should re-examine the design.

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Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is asking King County officials to “take a second look” at the design of the new youth jail they plan to build in the Central District.

But the county’s judges are defending the project and its design.

In a letter Monday to County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Laura Inveen, Murray stopped short of opposing the project outright and praised work that county officials have done to reduce juvenile-incarceration rates.

The mayor said he believes the project’s aim is to better serve families. But Murray said he thinks the county should pause to reconsider the project’s design.

“I recognize that an immediate transition to zero youth incarceration is unrealistic. I have some concerns about the current plans for the detention facility given our joint goals of working toward zero detention,” he wrote, not identifying any particular aspects of the design that he would like to see changed.

“The landscape of research on best practices and intervention strategies points to mounting evidence against incarcerating young people that was not known at the time this facility was being planned.”

In a reply Tuesday, Inveen and J. Wesley Saint Clair, the county’s chief juvenile judge, said officials have long been aware of research on the negative effects of detention and have designed the new detention center to mitigate those effects.

State law requires the county to maintain a juvenile-detention center, the judges noted, inviting Murray to spend time with a juvenile-court judge “so that you can obtain some firsthand knowledge.”

Voters approved a levy in 2012 to replace the existing youth courthouse and detention center with a new complex on the same site.

The design calls for more courtrooms (10, up from seven) and fewer detention beds (112, down from 212) than the existing complex, with the flexibility to further reduce detention space in the future, officials say.

Last year, the existing detention center’s average daily population was 51 youths, with far fewer on some days.

Local leaders have felt pressure in recent months from activists who oppose the project and want alternatives to incarceration because they object to locking up youth.

Activists protested outside Murray’s house in December and are appealing a permit decision for the project by Seattle’s construction department. The appeal is holding up construction.

Though the county has reduced youth detention by more than 70 percent since the 1990s, black youth are still much more likely to be detained than other youth.

City Council President Bruce Harrell said in mid-January that county officials should go back to the drawing board, and at least two other council members oppose the project.

“Public concern continues to grow about this project,” Murray wrote in his Monday letter.

Metropolitan King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski joined Harrell in speaking out against the project Tuesday with an Op-Ed in The Stranger.

In an interview, Dembowski said the county should consider replacing only its dilapidated youth courthouse and not the detention center, which is in better condition.

Dembowski once campaigned for the project but has become worried about cost overruns — the price tag is now $225 million, he said.

In a public statement Monday night, Constantine said he would propose that the county adopt a goal of zero youth detention.

While officials wait for a decision on the permit appeal, Constantine intends to “build bridges to anyone who wants better outcomes for youth,” he said, signaling he hopes to come to terms with activists.

But an interview Tuesday, he said he remains committed to seeing the new detention center built.

“We’re not going to have zero detention tomorrow,” he said.

Constantine said nearly all youth the county now locks up have been accused of violent crimes, such as murder, rape and armed theft.

“There are no shoplifters, there are no truants,” he said.

Murray and Constantine are both running for re-election this year.