Capping off a week of protests and one celebrity statement, the City of Seattle's Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) said it would not deny permits for a new controversial youth detention center earlier today. But lost amid much of the coverage was the intervention of a group of Native leaders in the youth detention center fight.
Last year, board members of the Huy Council, a non-profit focused on the needs of indigenous people in prison, submitted a letter to the Seattle City Council urging the council to consider alternatives to the detention center. The construction of the youth detention center is the first local issue that the non-profit has weighed in on, according to Huy chairman and lawyer Gabe Galanda, who tweeted out the group's letter again today.
The eight-person Huy board, chaired by Galanda, includes former Washington state senator Claudia Kauffman, former Department of Corrections secretary Eldon Vail, and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community chairman Brian Cladoosby. Cladoosby, a political figure who looms large in Indian Country, also serves as the president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
"We typically focus on Indian prisoner religious freedoms at state, federal and international levels," Galanda wrote in an e-mail. "This is complex for Indian country insofar as some tribes run their own jails. And there are so many other, more acute crises happening in our communities, relatively speaking. So there has not yet been a lot of national tribal focus on these issues, to my understanding. But I expect that to change over time."
The Huy letter addressed to city council members notes that juvenile detention centers house a disproportionate number of Native youth.
"Nationally, Native American youth are 30 percent more likely than Caucasian youth to be referred to juvenile court than have charges dropped, which results in their early entry into the system—perhaps without return," the letter reads.
As of 2014, 3.1 percent of King County juvenile justice referrals were made up of Native American youth, and just 23 percent of those referrals—the lowest of any ethnic group—were diverted to alternative programs outside of detention. Across King County Native American youth make up just 1 percent of the population, but inside the detention center, they make up 7 percent of detainees.
Read the full letter here.