Starting early this morning, activists with the No New Youth Jail coalition linked arms with piping around all three entrances to the construction site of the youth detention center currently under construction at 12th and Alder in Seattle. As of Monday afternoon, the protest is ongoing.
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.) The project was approved by voters in 2012 through a property tax levy.
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.
The project has slogged forward despite opposition that has increased since the initial ballot measure. No New Youth Jail has both organized protests, like one that clogged up intersections downtown for six hours earlier this month, and started some bureaucratic battles against the project, including a hearing examiner appeal and a challenge to the levy’s funding source.
In 2015, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance supporting a vision of zero youth detention in Seattle, and individual city councilors—including Kshama Sawant and Bruce Harrell, two that aren’t always aligned politically—have both spoken out about the project itself.
King County Executive Dow Constantine, explicitly called out by organizers of the protest, has also supported zero youth detention. Back in November, the executive’s office announced that youth detention oversight would be handed over to public health. Constantine has said that the new facility, which replaces the existing worn-down detention center, has fewer beds and more space wraparound services that could keep the court out of many cases.
But No New Youth Jail organizers maintain that halting construction with any facility with detention beds is the most immediate way to advance that goal. Last week, the coalition delivered a letter asking for a moratorium on construction.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Constantine said that he read the letter and is “aware of the activities at the Children and Family Justice Center.”
“We continue to invite all those interested in youth welfare and juvenile justice to join a full dialogue with King County and our community partners as we do the difficult work to further reduce the number of youth in detention,” Constantine continued. “I do not believe keeping kids in the current decrepit and disrespectful facility is the right solution. Moving young people to adult jail also takes us in the wrong direction. In fact, I issued an Executive Order directing that all young people charged as adults be moved to the juvenile facility so that they can receive more age-appropriate services and programming.”
Constantine said the county will continue “a public health approach to support youth and families before, during, and after they are involved with the justice system,” and announced an upcoming debate on the project to air on the Seattle Channel.
The project, which has an estimated cost of $210 million, is estimated to be completed in 2020.
Happening now: People’s Moratorium at 12th and Alder to Stop Construction. Join us! Press Release: https://www.facebook.com/NoNewYouthJailSeattle/posts/1607804042590912Posted by No New Youth Jail Seattle on Monday, March 26, 2018
This article has been updated to update the protest’s timing and to add a statement from King County Executive Dow Constantine.