Recounting a week of  direct action from the heart of the No New Youth Jail Campaign

by DJ Martinez

Originally published in the South Seattle Emerald

On Monday, March 19th, the No New Youth Jail Coalition delivered a letter to King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office demanding a moratorium on construction of the $210 million youth jail, known as the Children and Family Justice Center. The People’s Moratorium asserts:

“We demand a moratorium on construction until the County repurposes the site for meeting the needs of youth and families and eliminating any plans for courts or jails on the site. You are trying to push this project to completion in a rush because it is unpopular, unfunded, and illegitimate. Doing so exposes your disinterest in the wisdom and input from the people most impacted by this project. Your lack of integrity is exposed by your disingenuous support for ‘zero youth detention’ while simultaneously risking the County’s budget on an unfunded $210 million project designed specifically to detain youth. Stop the construction now and begin real negotiations with community stakeholders to repurpose the site for basic human needs and implement an end to youth detention.”

Subsequent days resulted in a steady and relentless week of action targeting the project and Constantine himself.

Celia Jackson and Dean Spade



On Monday, March 26, the NNYJ Coalition showed up to the building’s 12th & Alder construction site and locked themselves down to 3 main entry points for nearly 8 hours, preventing deliveries of materials to enter, and causing construction delays. Included in those locked down was associate of law professor, Dean Spade, from Seattle University.

“It is hard to imagine a more wrong-headed approach to any of King County’s many problems with racial and economic justice than to build more jails and courts that tear apart families and traumatize young people. It is time to stop what has been proven harmful and focus on what we really need: housing, income support, health care, child care, and art. I am here to be part of telling Dow Constantine to stop this now,” said Spade.

These sentiments were backed up by the dozens of community members who showed up to offer their support. From those who came to pick up and wave a sign, folks dropping off and delivering pizza, to local activists groups like The Raging Grannies who spoke against caging children and sang a song that denounced the youth jail.



King County Deputy Government Relations Director, Celia Jackson came to answer questions, but was “not (t)here to give answers on behalf of Dow”, instead she was there to listen and “take everything back.” According to former Seattle mayoral candidate, educator, and attorney Nikkita Oliver, this was the first time Constantine has sent a representative to any community initiated event or protest or has reached out personally to start a conversation around the youth jail since the opposition began more than 6 years ago.


On the following the day, March 27, the NNYJ Coalition targeted Constantine himself, showing up and occupying most of the Chinook building’s lobby. Constantine’s office is located in the complex.

Filling the lobby with No New Youth Jail balloons, coalition members sang songs, and read passages from books written by distinguished abolitionist scholars & authors, including Dr. Angela Davis, who, during her Seattle Unity Day keynote speech last year, affirmed the No New Youth Jail Campaign’s opposition to the jail, stating, “If they build it, they will fill it. They always do.” Much like the previous day, Constantine did not address the coalition, again leaving Deputy Government Relations Director, Celia Jackson, to take questions.





On Wednesday, the coalition moved from the streets and took the fight online, taking to multiple social media platforms, achieving their goal of obtaining more than 1,000 signatures on a petition calling for Constantine to implement the moratorium on construction in less than 24 hours, filling Dow’s mailbox with opposition to the on-going construction, and creating a stronger social media presence.

NNYJ ask1

That ushered in Thursday, Day 4 of the #PeoplesMoratorium, where members of the NNYJ Coalition dropped a No New Youth Jail banner from the E Olive Way Bridge over Southbound traffic in Downtown.


Photo: DJ Martinez


Nikkita Oliver has recently agreed to debate with the King County Executive, contingent upon making the debate more accessible to those most impacted.

As mentioned before, the #NoNewYouthJail campaign shows no signs of stopping. As a member of the campaign, I’ve witnessed firsthand that the momentum only seems to be gaining speed by those opposed to the construction of the youth jail, as the County steadily and hastily continue to build despite the Washington Court of Appeals finding inconsistencies in the tax levy’s implementation, putting the County’s general fund in danger, according to the coalition.

What will today bring? According to the coalition, those wanting to learn more about the campaign and see what the future holds for the People’s Moratorium should keep an eye on the coalition’s social media game:

NNYJ ask5

All photos by DJ Martinez