Capitol Hill Blog: ‘A period of redesign’ — Activists say, as planned, new youth jail will be ‘catastrophic’ to county coffers

The coalition formed to stop construction of the new county youth jail facility on 12th Ave said Tuesday that Dow Constantine’s officials have warned that the project could be “catastrophic” to county coffers.

Nikkita Oliver and the No New Youth Jail and People’s Moratorium efforts held a press conference and rally Tuesday morning to announce the findings outside the fences where construction continues on the $200 million-plus youth justice facility that will create a new incarceration facility, and new court and administrative buildings on the county’s campus at 12th and Alder.

“This system is going to traumatize children and separate families,” Oliver said Tuesday.

“We need to be committed to building something that is healing and restorative,” she said. “We sustained a campaign for six years and we’re now at a point where 120 organizations and counting have signed on to a moratorium in saying that King County must stop building this building, we must move into a period of redesign, and we must put something in place that heals and does not do harm.”

Standing in front of a large, windowless, concrete block wall, it can be hard to imagine work stopping and a re-purposed design taking shape. More than 120 community groups and organizations are calling for the re-start as part of the People’s Moratorium concerning construction of the Child and Family Justice CenterConstruction of the county’s controversial project has continued despite a legal decision that thrust a major component of the center’s $200 million-plus budget into question.

The new facility is under construction on the same campus as the existing juvenile justice center along 12th Ave about a block south of Seattle University. The county has been looking to replace the courthouse and administrative buildings for years and is building a new jail along with them. The recession of 2008 held up plans for the expensive project, but the county passed a roughly $210 million levy in 2012. CHS reported here on the county’s efforts to show its changing approach to juvenile crime and justice. In 2016, the proportion of black youth in jail decline from 58.5% to 49.9%, county officials say. According to U.S. Census figures, about 7% of the county population is black and another 5% identified a multiracial. King County plans for the new facility to be open by 2020.

While there was a large contingent of Seattle Police on hand to monitor the protest, Tuesday’s action was focused on a press conference to share details of new documents the coalition saysshow the county will have to spend millions from the general fund for the project:

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.

Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien spoke Tuesday against the construction.

“I think we need to halt construction on this project and we need to reimagine what it can be and not complete this youth jail,” O’Brien said. “I’m here because a few years ago when I was chair of Seattle’s land use committee and I voted in support of the land use change, because I didn’t believe that this project could be stopped and I thought we might as well build a pretty jail as opposed to an ugly jail and I was wrong. I regret that. This project is not inevitable, it’s still not inevitable, and I want to do what I can to help others in power who can stop this, not make the same mistake I did.”

Other activists drew connections to the fight against the separation of families by federal immigration officials.

“It’s all connected,” Maru Mora Villapando said. “When we fight at the detention center, we’re fighting cages for human beings. The youth jail is also a cage, but for children.”