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Youth jail project hit by a legal blow—with more battles ahead

Two lawsuits could determine the project’s future

Via City of Seattle

Update 3:40 p.m.: The King County Prosecutor’s office said in a statement that they’re amending their complaint and dismissing everyone but the City of Seattle and EPIC from the lawsuit because “they are no longer parties to this action.”

Because all the groups were parties to an earlier lawsuit about the master-use permit, they were “required to provide notice to all parties” when they filed.

“We apologize for the confusion or anxiety this has caused our community,” said the statement.

An appeals court decision yesterday could cut off some funding for the new Children and Family Justice Center—increasingly known as the Youth Jail—currently under construction at 12th and Alder.

The facility was initially voter-approved in 2012, with a property tax levy as a funding source. A suit filed by End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), along with firm Smith and Lowney and Columbia Legal Services, challenged the ballot measure.

An appeals court just found that the method for collecting the funding is invalid—although it did hold that the ballot measure’s stated purpose was clear.

“We estimate that the decision will remove approximately [$150 million] or more from project funds over course of 9 years,” attorney Knoll Lowney over email.

In a statement, EPIC calls the decision a “fatal blow” to the project. King County Facilities Management director Anthony Wright called the decision “a technical ruling.”

The county plans to appeal the decision to the Washington State Supreme Court, and plan to continue with construction for now.

In the meantime, King County has filed suit against the city and more than 60 organizations fighting the project over a narrow window the city granted for appealing the project’s master-use permit.

King County prosecuting attorney Dan Satterberg named not only the city and EPIC in the suit, but other organizations that have opposed the facility—including Real Change, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Friends of Bailey Gatzert Elementary, and the Tenants Union.

“It’s bullying for Dow Constantine to sue social justice organizations to silence their voices and ram through a new youth jail,” Lowney said of the second suit. “But it’s not that surprising.”

We’re waiting on comment from King County Prosecutor and Executive’s offices. We’ll update if we hear back.

The new facility is designed to replace an aging youth detention center and courthouse. While the new project would have fewer beds than the existing facility, it would still be a youth detention center, with 112 beds.

On average in 2016, King County’s existing facility used 51 of those beds on any given day. Youth detained in the facility are disproportionately black: 50 percent of youth detained in the facility in 2016 were black compared to 13 percent of the county’s population overall.

In 2015, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance supporting a vision of zero youth detention in Seattle.

The site of the new facility is already under construction. If construction continues uninterrupted, the facility is scheduled to open by 2020.