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- America: home of the prison-industrial complex!
While we recognize the need to renovate or replace the existing youth jail, we support the No New Youth Jail Campaign’s efforts to slow down the process and bring community leadership into prominence as we chart better ways to address youth crime. We believe the $210 million allocated for building a new youth jail could be invested with more impact through a modest facility upgrade, community-based prevention and diversion strategies, as well as the use of restorative justice practices for youth.
Youth crime is down in King County and the current facility is often not at full capacity. Therefore, we question the wisdom of building a larger jail, which would only reinforce criminalization as a strategy to deal with troubled youth. As an active member in the Equity in Education Coalition in Washington State, we are concerned about failings in our education system that disproportionately impact students of color and funnel kids into the school-to-prison pipeline.
Copies of this letter, signed by Solid Ground's President Gordon McHenry Jr., were widely circulated last Wednesday at a community forum on the detention center hosted by Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR). Activists described the county's juvenile detention system as racist, citing statistics that black youth make up just 9.8% of King County's juvenile population and yet are about 40% of those incarcerated by the county.
Claudia Balducci, one of the county's leading planners on the project, attended the forum and defended the project on the grounds that it reduces the number of overall detention beds (from 210 to 154). She said the county will continue to strive to place juveniles in alternatives for detention—it's steadily reduced the average youth detention population from more than 200, in 1998, to about 60-70 today.
But, she admitted, "We have a terrible problem with racial disparity that is a result of our system and how it works. Building a [new] facility will not fix that, will not make it better, but will not make it worse...I love hearing that people have a vision of no detention at all. I hope that comes to pass. [But] nobody has achieved that."
That line of argument bombed with the audience, who called the new jail project a failure of imagination on the part of public officials. Instead, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism is proposing a "community based, 24-hour reception center where youth are brought instead of the jail, and are connected to a range of prevention and intervention services." If YUIR can add more members like Solid Ground to its anti-jail coalition, maybe they'll make some headway, as an anti-youth jail front did in Baltimore last year.