Seattle Times: Opposition to King County youth jail grows as immigrant-rights group joins effort to halt construction

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Columbia Legal Services and King County’s Department of Public Defense among more than 120 groups that oppose building the facility.

Malou Chavez from Northwest Immigrant Rights Project endorsing the #PeoplesMoratorium.

High-profile rights groups, including one that works on behalf of immigrants, have joined activists trying to stop construction on a prison for youth that’s being built in Seattle’s Central District.

Demonstrators on Tuesday gathered outside the construction site on 14th Avenue, just blocks away from Garfield High School, to reassert their disapproval of spending public money to build the facility instead of directing the funds to other needs such as housing. The umbrella effort, referred to as the People’s Moratorium, announced that more than 120 groups have joined the cause, including Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Columbia Legal Services and King County’s Department of Public Defense.

The rally is the latest effort by the No New Youth Jail Coalition to stop the project. In 2012, voters approved a $210 million levy to pay for a replacement of the existing juvenile-justice complex, of which $40 million was slated for the detention portion of the Children and Family Justice Center. The remainder was planned to fund courtrooms and community resources.

Maru Mora from Northwest Detention Center Resistance endorsing the People’s Moratorium.

“This is wrong. This is harmful. This is traumatizing,” activist and former mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver said at the rally outside the Children and Family Justice Center, which is being built to replace the aging Youth Services Center. “This system is inherently broken.”

Opponents of the new detention center have filed a number of legal challenges to the project, including one over the language presented to voters who approved the measure and a second contesting the city’s issuance of a master-use permit for the project.

The appeal against the permit’s issuance was dealt a legal blow in May when the state Court of Appeals sided with an earlier King County Superior Court ruling that determined it missed the filing deadline. Opponents also claim King County provided flawed language in the ballot measure to approve construction and that voters had actually only authorized collecting property taxes for the project for one year.

King County spokesman Alex Fryer has said the county believes voters understood that it was a 9-year-levy they approved.

“This facility and all prisons are vestiges of slavery,” Merf Ehman, the director of Columbia Legal Services, an advocacy group that last week endorsed the People’s Moratorium, said at Tuesday’s rally. “We want to use the law to dismantle these facilities.”

Newly Released County Records Show that County Officials Have Warned Dow the Jail Could Be “Catastrophic” for the County

Hamacher Letter PAO released docs

July 17, 2018 rally and press conference naming 120 new organizations endorsing the People’s Moratorium.

Newly released King County documents reveal that even County officials have warned that the project could be “catastrophic” to King County’s General Fund.

In September 2017, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled that King County has been unlawfully collecting property taxes for the proposed youth jail, a ruling that effectively eliminates the majority of the funding for the project. County records revealed that one day after the court decision, King County Budget Director, Dwight Dively, emailed officials, stating that, if the County is unsuccessful in the appeal, the project would need to be “paid from the General Fund, resulting in even more financial pressure on other services.” Specifically, the County would be required to issue bonds with an estimated annual debt service of $11.4 million dollars for the next 30 years. Then again, in December 2017, Mr. Dively emailed officials, stating that, a loss could add $50-200 million to the General Fund, and that the “effect is potentially catastrophic.” Click here for Dively’s email. Nevertheless, without any alternative funding source in place, King County continued construction on the $210 million project.

Another recently released letter seems to suggest the Executive did not follow advice regarding the project. It also suggests that the Executive was not cooperative with the council in providing information to answer legal and policy questions.

Pressure is increasing on Dow Constantine, who has continued the project against mounting opposition. Constantine has defended the project, arguing that he supports “zero youth detention” as a goal and promoting the county’s investment in “Best Starts for Kids,” which provides grants to local organizations serving youth. Organizers, however, pointed out the disparity between King County’s willingness to fund “Best Starts for Kids” for only six years, while continuing construction on a punishment facility designed to last for fifty years with uncertain funds. Organizers vowed to continue the growing fight to put King County on a better path.

Endorse the People’s Moratorium Now!

At this morning’s press conference, our campaign announced that over 120 organizations have endorsed the people’s moratorium. We heard from leaders from endorsing organizations, making the powerful connections between work for environmental justice, immigrants’ rights, queer and trans liberation, labor, Black freedom, youth liberation, housing for all, and the call to stop the construction of more jails and courts in King County. Your organization can endorse the People’s Moratorium, too! Tell Dow to STOP CONSTRUCTION NOW!

100+ Organizations Endorse People’s Moratorium: Rally and Press Conference at Jail Construction Site

Contacts: Andrea Marcos, (408) 621-7170, andrea.emily.marcos@gmail.com, Devon Knowles, (646) 288-8332, devoncknowles@gmail.com

Over 100 Organizations Call to Halt Construction of King County Youth Jail

Broad cross-section of groups opposing youth jail and courts to rally and present recent revelations on internal documents describing ongoing Construction as Potentially “Catastrophic” to County Budget

What: Press Conference and Rally at Youth Jail Construction Site

Where: 12th and Alder, King County Juvenile Detention Facility

When: 9:00 am, Monday, July 17th

At a press conference and rally this morning outside the youth jail and courthouse construction site in Seattle, representatives from over 100 organizations endorsing the People’s Moratorium gather to announce their shared push for a halt on construction. Newly released King County documents reveal that even County officials have warned that the project could be “catastrophic” to King County’s General Fund. Speakers from endorsing organizations, including Got Green, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and Columbia Legal Services, as well as elected officials, will take the stage to demand that King County Executive Dow Constantine halt all building activities at the new youth jail and courts pending negotiations with community members to redesign and repurpose the facility to meet basic human needs.

The 100+ organizations that have now endorsed the moratorium include a broad array on constituencies from across King County, from legal organizations to immigrant rights groups, faith-based organizations, and unions. Endorsers include the King County’s Department of Public Defense, the Public Defender Association, the Washington Defender Association, Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, Centro de la Raza, Legal Voice, Columbia Legal Services, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Team Child, Got Green, Real Change News, and Muslim Association of Puget Sound – American Muslim Empowerment Network.

In letters sent to Executive Dow Constantine, the organizations explained their opposition to the project:

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Columbia Legal Services:

“King County and the nation are at an historic crossroads in how we treat children caught up in the criminal justice, dependency and immigration detention systems … Continuing to build a new youth jail moves us all away from realizing King County’s commitment to Zero Youth Detention. The time is right to halt construction and truly dig into how King County can reach that vital goal.”

OneAmerica:

“In the six years since the vote on the now imperiled tax levy to fund the jail, much has changed. There is a growing consensus backed by research that incarceration for youth does not work. It does not keep our communities safe, and it wreaks havoc in the lives of youth and families, mostly families of color, whom it touches. Please listen to the growing consensus that building a youth jail takes us in the wrong direction. We know that contact with law enforcement and penal system marks members of community for immigration enforcement. By pausing construction and moving away from a model that is bound up arrest and detention, the County will also affirm it will keep children in our neighborhoods out of ICE’s hands.”

King County Department of Public Defense

“Juvenile jails and prisons traumatize young people and make communities less safe. When young people are incarcerated they are ripped away from their homes, schools, and communities. … Those harms disproportionately fall on young people of color, who make up more than 80 percent of the young people incarcerated in King County. Rather than being locked up, young people should be supported in their community.”

Concerns about the project have only worsened as new information has emerged about how legal challenges to the jail’s funding scheme could cause the cost of the jail to end up being paid by the County’s General Fund. In September 2017, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled that King County has been unlawfully collecting property taxes for the proposed youth jail, a ruling that effectively eliminates the majority of the funding for the project. County records revealed that one day after the court decision, King County Budget Director, Dwight Dively, emailed officials, stating that, if the County is unsuccessful in the appeal, the project would need to be “paid from the General Fund, resulting in even more financial pressure on other services.” Specifically, the County would be required to issue bonds with an estimated annual debt service of $11.4 million dollars for the next 30 years. Then again, in December 2017, Mr. Dively emailed officials, stating that, a loss could add $50-200 million to the General Fund, and that the “effect is potentially catastrophic.” Nevertheless, without any alternative funding source in place, King County continued construction on the $210 million project.

Pressure is increasing on Dow Constantine, who has continued the project against mounting opposition. Constantine has defended the project, arguing that he supports “zero youth detention” as a goal and promoting the county’s investment in “Best Starts for Kids,” which provides grants to local organizations serving youth. Organizers, however, pointed out the disparity between King County’s willingness to fund “Best Starts for Kids” for only six years, while continuing construction on a punishment facility designed to last for fifty years with uncertain funds. Organizers vowed to continue the growing fight to put King County on a better path.

Full list of moratorium endorsers, full text of endorser’s letters, and King County internal documents will be available at the press conference.

For Live Updates, Visit www.facebook.com/NoNewYouthJailSeattle or nonewyouthjail.org.

KUOW Got the Facts about the Jail Wrong, Here We Clear It Up

Debunking the “Fact Check”

By Devon Knowles and Nikkita Oliver

On May 7th, after interviews with both Dow Constantine and Nikkita Oliver, KUOW published an “fact check” entitled Why Does Seattle Need a New Youth Jail?” In responding to the arguments made by Oliver against the youth jail, KUOW staff relied heavily on uncited comments by County employees. These statements cannot and should not be considered “facts” about the youth jail or King County’s approach to supporting systems-involved youth and communities. Although KUOW later published Oliver’s tweets in response to their conclusions, we believe it is essential to fully respond to the commentary.

KUOW “fact” #1:

If we did not have this youth detention facility, the only other options for violent offenders would be King County jail or the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, where we have historically housed juveniles charged as adults.

The real facts:

The above statement presumes some children need to be locked up. The options are not either to lock up kids in a youth facility or lock them up in an adult facility. The third option is to not use jail as an option for kids, and instead to rely on the alternative programs already in place and develop more alternatives. While RCW 13.16.030 which makes juvenile detention facilities a mandatory function of the county, it does not specify that the center must be a jail or how many children need to be detained. The County has the ability to interpret the statute and is actively choosing to build a multi-million dollar youth jail.

Also, it is not true that if we did not “have this youth detention facility,” we would rely on adult facilities as a youth jail already exists at 12th and Alder. In fact, while the County points to the need to keep children out of adult jails, it is seeking to build a facility that even its own experts describe as troubling. Specifically, “the incorporation of mezzanines (pods) reminiscent of adult-correctional facilities totaling a large bed count (112) runs contrary to best practices.” \

KUOW “fact” #2:

Patricia Murphy: The project budget adopted by the King County Council is $219.2 million, according to Alex Fryer, a spokesperson for King County. Fryer also says the $638 million figure is incorrect. He says the county spent $359 million in 2017 through the Department of Juvenile and Adult Detention, prosecuting attorney’s office and other agencies.

According to the county’s March 2018 report, average daily population in secure juvenile detention was 53, down from 90 ten years ago. The average stay in secure juvenile detention was around 11 days in 2017.

According to King County’s website, the number of detention beds at the new facility is capped at 112, which is down from 212 beds available. Many of those beds may go empty. Most kids charged with crimes are not in detention but in diversion programs.

The real facts:

The County adopted $638 million for policing and prosecution (targeting communities of color) in the 2017-2018 Biennial budget. In spending $359 million in 2017 alone, the County is already on track to exceed that budget.

KUOW did not provide a link to the March 2018 report and there is no citation supporting the County’s claim that more youth end up in diversion programs than in detention. What we do know is that, while the number of children incarcerated is decreasing, racial disproportionality is increasing. This suggests it is primarily white children who are given the opportunity to participate in diversion programs, while youth of color remain incarcerated.

Moreover, the County’s aim to build a detention center that will hold twice as many children belies its stated commitment to zero youth detention. If the additional beds are to account for the County’s population growth over the next 50 years, we can only assume that the County intends to continue locking kids up for decades to come.

Finally, the County should be ashamed in touting the average detention period of 11 days. Doctors, children’s advocacy groups, and juvenile justice policy organizations have repeatedly concluded that any amount of incarceration results compromises a child’s mental, emotional, and physical health, and that even less than one month in jail results in negative health outcomes as adults. See, e.g., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5260153/; http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/06-11_rep_dangersofdetention_jj.pdf

KUOW “facts” #3 and #4:

Patricia Murphy: The report Oliver references is from a facility inspection in 2011. It does describe the facility as in “generally good condition,” but it also describes water penetrating through concrete block walls and leaking through window frames. The number Oliver mentions is the total project cost for addressing issues in the exterior and HVAC.

Constantine told Bill Radke it would cost more to remodel the old facility than to build a new, smaller facility that can reduce its secure detention facility over time. The County estimates repairs would cost $40 million.

The real facts:

The new facility cannot be a healthy place for children to live or to receive services. Children will be separated from their families, will have their education disrupted, and will experience trauma in this facility.

The current jail is not a safe place, but it does not follow that the County needs to spend $220 million building a designer jail. KUOW does not provide a citation for the County’s claim that repairing the existing facility would cost $40 million. Even assuming repairs would cost $40 million, however, the County’s statement that “it would cost more to remodel the old facility than to build a new, smaller facility” is utterly nonsensical. The new facility is slated to cost at least $219 million dollars – a difference of $180 million.  

KUOW “fact” #5:

Patricia Murphy: I have heard criticism that services are in the wrong place. Less than 25 percent of referrals to detention come from Seattle; most come from South King County (e.g. Tukwila, Federal Way and Auburn). Some families have to travel significant distances to participate and that can be a huge strain. Constantine told Bill Radke you can scatter the diversion programs but not the courts.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told me that regional services are a great idea but at least a decade away.

The real facts:

Constantine’s answer confuses services with courthouses. We do not need to decentralize courts in order to decentralize services. Dan Satterberg provides no citation or reasoning for his statement that regional services are at least a decade away. The truth is likely a matter of funding, in which case we need to be spending the $219 million towards achieving this goal of truly supporting youth.

KUOW “fact” #6:

King County has made significant investments in trying to keep kids out of jails.

For example, $62.6 million in the Best Starts for Kids in 2017. But what they do not have yet is critical mass, meaning they don’t have enough people doing enough of the work yet. A lot of that isn’t about a lack of willingness. It usually comes down to funding, training and even liability concerns.

The real facts:

The County dedicates far more resources towards traditional policing, prosecution, and detention than it does to any types of diversion programs or therapeutic courts. The adopted 2017-2018 budget reflects that the County allocated about $22 million to “therapeutic courts” (mental health court, family treatment court, and drug courts), totalling approximately $11 million per year.  

Similarly, it appears as though the County is spending significantly less resources towards diversion programs, instead relying on outside funding or requiring families who participate to pay fees. The budget’s specific allocation for juvenile diversion programs is limited to the Family Intervention and Restorative Services (FIRS) program and accounts for $1.3 million over the course of two years (although the budget does add one full-time position (FTE) for diversion and reentry programs as part of the behavioral health budget and $200,000 to the prosecutor’s office, it is unclear how much of this will be allocated towards juvenile diversion). It is worthwhile to note that the County funds 892 FTEs for adult and juvenile detention alone (not including policing or prosecution).   

The County claims that they are not able to invest in programs to keep children out of jail because of “funding, training and liability concerns.” This is telling. Although the proposed project is funded by a levy, the reality is that the County does not have the funding because it chooses not to – it chooses to invest in policing, prosecution, and jailing, not in youth or communities.

The question of funding is a critical one and again reflects the County’s values. As it stands, the Washington Court of Appeals has ruled that the language on the ballot precludes collecting funds beyond the first year, leaving the County with at least a $150 million deficit. Although the Washington Supreme Court has accepted review, it is unlikely to issue a decision within the next six months. In the event that it affirms the Court of Appeals ruling, the County will be required to draw from the general fund to make up the difference. The choice to proceed pending a decision is extremely reckless and dangerous given the County’s severe housing crises and depleted general fund.

Sharing wisdom and guidance from the mijente movement organizers on what it means to Abolish ICE

“Histories of social movements show time and again that powerful organizing makes the impossible possible. As the demand to Abolish ICE begins to catch fire, we must not forget that it was profoundly criminalized working class and poor undocumented people who first had the courage to challenge assimilationist demands in favor of aspirational ones. It was them and their accomplices who dared to dream up a campaign that could fight to win the end of their own incarcerations and deportations. A motley crew of undocumented people, women of color, queers, and grassroots organizers first pushed forward the demand for ‘not one more deportation,’ prefiguring the current moment. As the words of Assata Shakur remind us, it’s those who ‘have nothing to lose but our chains’ who have made the most daring demands in times of conformity. When we forget this we lose lessons about how movements are born, pivot and win.” -Maru Mora Villalpando, Tania Unzueta and Angelica Chazaro

READ MORE: https://medium.com/@LaTania/we-fell-in-love-in-a-hopeless-place-a-grassroots-history-from-not1more-to-abolish-ice-23089cf21711

What policies are needed to #AbolishICE? (From Mijente)
Abolish ICE
Remove attorney general Jeff sessions and reimagine the criminal division of the department of justice
Repeal laws criminalizing migration
End operation streamline
Enact non-cooperation policies at the state and local levels that go beyond sanctuary laws
End all forms of immigrant detention
End all contracts between private sector and governmental agencies for immigration enforcement
Defund the border patrol and fund border rescue
Stop funding and training other governments to carry out immigration policing

Read more in the policy platform from Mijente.

Today! Interfaith Gathering at the Jail Construction Site, 7pm

Show up on June 28th at 7pm at the new youth jail construction site (1211 E Alder St) for a prayerful interfaith gathering celebrating and calling for liberation. Our diverse faith traditions have much to teach us about loving others and working for the thriving of all of us in our communities. What in your faith tradition makes you ask for construction to stop on the new youth jail?

Bring songs, prayers, liturgies, meditations, poems, sacred texts and reflections from your faith tradition to share around the themes of liberation and freedom. There will be space for you to share what you bring with people present. Hear from and build community with Seattle neighbors in faith. This will be a peaceful space to hold prayer together.

Facebook page for this event is here.