This guest post is by King County Council member Joe McDermott, who supports Proposition 1.
It’s time to replace the dilapidated juvenile justice center. Unless we decide that we don’t need a place for our citizens to go when a young person has been abused or neglected, charged with a crime, run away from home, dropped out of school, or fallen into a spiral of substance abuse or mental illness, it is a simple fact of life that many of our kids and families will end up there. And it would be better that they not have to go to a building that screams “screw you” when they do.
In their endorsements of Proposition 1, both The Stranger and the Seattle Times did a great job documenting what a mess the current facility is—the Seattle Times even made a movie. Go and visit the space on 12th Avenue and East Alder Street if you’re on the fence about Prop 1. There’s a reason why this facility has been the top capital project for the County since 2008. When I last visited the place, the power went out. If we weren’t in a recession, this would have gone before the voters years ago.
The extremists make much noise over the allegation that Prop 1 would “build a new jail,” so let’s get a few things straight. The buildings that Prop 1 would replace house the juvenile court, youth and family service providers, a school, and the detention facility (which is not a jail—google it). Not only that, but the new detention facility would actually have fewer beds than the current facility. So the extremists are just plain wrong.
The truly amazing part is that we’re able to build a detention facility with fewer beds even though we’re building for the future. How? King County has been making huge strides in alternatives to detention. We have reduced the number of juveniles in detention by more than 40 percent over the last decade—despite population increases. In fact, King County has become a national model in alternatives to detention.
The new Children and Families Justice Center would help expand the innovative work we’re already doing. It will better protect the safety and dignity of youth who must be detained there, and provide properly designed facilities for new approaches that steer young people out of the criminal justice system and deliver help for families (like parent-to-parent mentoring, counseling services, and juvenile drug court).
Not only is Prop 1 the right thing to do, it’s also smart. The facility is in such bad shape that it would cost tens of millions to repair it. Financial analyses show that rebuilding it is the best long-term solution for the County. Deciding to not rebuild the center won’t “send a message” or “help kids”—it will just force the county to spend millions to patch the problem and send kids to the same dilapidated building they are in today.
In a post-Eyman Washington, you’re required to vote on essential infrastructure like this. Here’s your chance to participate in our modern government. The cost is $25 a year for nine years for the average homeowner. Make your vote count.