The Juvenile Punishment System Targets Youth of Color, Destroys Lives, and Does Not Make Us Safer
The juvenile punishment system in King County is severely racially targeted. According to a March 2012 report by the Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System, black youth are twice as likely as white youth to be arrested. Black and native youth are more than twice as likely as white youth to be referred to court and youth of color are less likely to be referred to diversion programs. Black youth make up only 6% of the Washington youth population but 21% of youth sentenced to Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration facilities. The racial disproportionality has apparently worsened as the youth jail population in King County has reduced. The energy and resources being used to plan the rehabilitation of this facility should be redirected to creating programs that support youth and families in King County–child care, jobs, mental health support, drug treatment, arts programs, gardens, after school programs, income support and housing. Supporting youth and families is cheaper than locking up youth and has far superior outcomes. It isn’t just this dilapidated youth jail building that is dangerous for youth—being caged is dangerous to the physical and mental health of youth, harms their access to education, and has lasting negative effects in their lives. This youth facility is outdated, and so is the model of locking up young people. The dilapidation of this building is a crossroads for the County—we can choose to keep investing in a model that doesn’t work and that creates harm, or we can shut it down and shift toward supporting youth.
The Child Welfare Functions of the New Jail Building Are Also Racially Targeted, Tearing Apart Poor Families and Families of Color
The County portrayed the jail as something that will help youth and families. The Statement in support of Proposition No. 1, the tax levy that will raise over $200 million for the new jail, says:
“The Children and Family Justice Center (“CFJC”) is where children and families go in times of crisis: child abuse and neglect; foster care transition; complex custody issues; juvenile offenses and truancy cases. A growing population and economic difficulties mean more kids and families need care and protection, but current facilities are dangerously outdated and failing our children.”
The crises faced by youth and families are the crises of poverty, unemployment, police violence and criminalization, all of which are worsened by a racist juvenile punishment system and child welfare system. According to research on the County’s Child Welfare system, Black and Native children together make up:
- 8 percent of the child population in King County
- 25 percent of the children involved in referrals accepted for investigation
- 33 percent of all children removed from their homes and placed in care
- 50 percent of the children still in out-of-home care four years after placement
Once in the foster care system, youth face terrible outcomes–they are more unlikely to finish school, more likely to end up in the criminal system, and more likely to face poverty and homelessness.
Spending more money on courts that put youth in jail and take children away from families of color is not support or justice, especially while vital services and programs that can prevent families from going into crisis are being cut or are non-existent. We should be funding violence prevention–you shouldn’t have to get arrested to get basic services like housing, health care, or drug treatment.
The Jail Project Will Further the Gentrification of the Central District, Displacing Black Residents
The Central District has changed drastically in the last decades as property values have gone up and low-income people have been pushed out of this historical Black neighborhood. The Central District was 79% Black in 1968. It was 58% Black in 1990 and now it is 21% Black. Police activity in the Central District targets Black people. The County’s plans for a new jail include selling three acres of the site to developers.
Here’s a great video about gentrification in the Central District:
The New Jail Will Be Heated by Seattle’s Dangerous For-Profit Incinerators
Seattle Steam will provide the heat for the new jail. This company’s existing and planned for-profit incinerators, located in downtown Seattle, pollute the air and endanger the health of Seattle residents.
Pouring Millions into Racist Prisons and Jails and Courts While People Don’t Have Their Basic Needs Met Is Unacceptable
The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world today, and more than any other country that has ever existed. The US has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. Over 60% of people in prison are people of color. In Seattle, like every other city in the nation, the police target and terrorize people of color, poor people, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and youth. There are many alternatives, but our governments are too used to seeing problems (like the problem of a dilapidated dangerous youth jail) as best solved by more courts, jails and prisons. The right thing to do is to shut down the youth jail and not build a replacement. The youth inside are locked up for being people of color, for being poor people, for being desperate, for coming from communities that don’t have basic services. Getting arrested and taken into court, getting caged, facing violence and educational deprivation and stigma only make their situations worse.
Even with a misleading campaign that portrayed the jail as a good thing for children and families, 46.59% of King County voters rejected the new jail project in the August vote. Yes, the levy passed, but the fight is not over. Join us to stop this jail building project!