SEATTLE – Opponents of a new youth jail are asking King County to place a moratorium on its construction, which is already underway. No New Youth Jail Coalition delivered a letter to King County Executive Dow Constantine on Monday, urging him to nix the facility.
The group and others say the jail will exacerbate racial disparities already present in the juvenile justice system. In early March, groups blocked traffic in front of Constantine’s office in opposition to the project.
Angelica Chazaro with No New Youth Jail Coalition says the number of groups against the project has been steadily growing since its approval six years ago.
“There have been dozens of organizations that represent legal services, nonprofits, different immigrant groups across the county who have all spoken out in opposition,” she says. “And so, this is not a fringe group – this is a growing consensus that this is the wrong project.
“If Dow Constantine wants this youth jail to be his legacy, that’s on him, but we’re going to be pushing back every step of the way,” she adds.
A $210 million tax levy to build the jail was approved by voters in 2012, but a Thurston County appeals court partially overturned some of the language underlying that levy last year. Constantine says the new facility is needed to keep kids and the community safe.
Chazaro contends the initial ballot language calling the facility a “children and family justice center” was misleading and that voters did not actually understand they were approving a new youth jail.
Since the jail was approved, King County has committed to the long-term goal of zero youth detentions. But Chazaro says building this facility runs in opposition to that goal.
“We just see that those two things cannot be compatible and that real public safety comes from giving youths and families the support that they need in order to thrive – not building a youth jail and courts,” she explains.
Some of the push-back against the facility has been successful. In 2015, King County officials agreed to reduce the number of beds from 154 to 114. The county plans for the new facility to provide more support for families with juveniles in the justice system.