Yesterday, Congresswoman-elect Pramila Jayapal and Governor Jay Inslee declared Washington a hate-free state. They also saw their event interrupted by protesters who oppose the voter-approved plan for a new "Children and Family Justice Center" in the Central District.
The activists, who prefer the term "youth jail," interrupted speeches from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine. Their demand? They want Constantine and Murray to oppose granting a master use permit to begin construction on the new facility, which would replace the current juvie (described as "toxic, cramped, and falling apart") with a building that has more social services and 112 beds—about half the number of beds the juvie has now.
After the press conference, a group of activists briefly met with Constantine to talk further about the issue. There's video of that conversation here. "We have 27 kids in the jail right now," said one of the protesters in the video. "So why are we building a jail with more than 100 beds?"
Alexa Vaughn, a public information officer for the King County Executive's office, confirmed that on one day this month, 27 youths were jailed at the current facility.
The number of youths in juvenile detention fluctuates throughout the year, Vaughn said, and "it’s pretty common during the holidays for the population to dip." When asked why, Vaughn referred me to another representative who was unavailable at the time. As of Tuesday morning, 30 youths were held at the jail.
But on average, how many youths have been incarcerated at the juvenile detention center this year? Here are the numbers:
From January to September 2016, an average of about 55 youths were being jailed at the facility. The highest numbers of kids being held at the detention center were there for physically hurting another person to the degree that a felony charge was involved (about 22 kids) or violating the terms of their probation (about 10 kids).
"We are proud that since 1998, we’ve brought down the juvenile population by about 70 percent," said Vaughn. "We want to reduce the use of detention while maintaining safety in all of our communities."
Currently, different halls in the detention center are used to separate kids depending on gender and the types of crimes committed. Youths who've committed violent crimes are kept separately from other kids, Vaughn said.
The protesters are asking for the city and county to move towards zero youth detention, a system in which kids are not locked up for committing crimes.
But that's not what voters approved in 2012. Nor does it currently work with existing county law, said Vaughn.
"Law-wise, we’re required to have a juvenile detention in our county," Vaughn said. "It's a public safety issue."
As for the specific plans for the new juvie, Vaughn noted:
About 25 percent of the project budget is dedicated to a juvenile detention center that cuts the county’s juvenile detention bed count in half, while adding space for a King County Library site, a spiritual center, mental health services and an activity room dedicated to creative writing, yoga, improv performance training and mentoring programs. It’s also designed flexibly so that if the juvenile detention population continues to decline, more bed halls can be converted into non-detention program space.
And regarding the protesters' concerns about the over-representation of youths of color among those incarcerated at the King County juvie, even as overall youth incarceration rates have declined, Vaughn said:
An unacceptable and unfortunate national trend, which the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiatives (JDAI) will back up, is that there is no urban area in the country that’s been able to reduce its juvenile detention population without seeing racial disproportionality rates go up. But we’re determined to break the status quo and lead the way on juvenile justice reform. With every new program and set of policies, we hope to decrease interactions between the juvenile justice system and youth of all races.
This post has been updated.