SEATTLE, WA — After years of outcry from activists to end juvenile detention in King County, the county's top official has announced a new commitment to close its youth jail. Additionally, the executive is also planning for the Seattle jail to be phased out entirely.
King County Executive Dow Constantine issued a statement over Twitter Tuesday, announcing a plan to close the remaining youth detention units at the controversial Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center, or CFJC. Constantine says the closure will happen "as quickly as possible" and no later than 2025.
Several activist groups like the No New Youth Jail Coalition have long argued that the juvenile detention facility is outdated, and disproportionately harms young Black and minority residents. Between January and June of 2017, 45 percent of the youth detained in King County were Black, despite only making up 8 percent of the county's youth. It's also been accused of being part of the "school-to-prison pipeline"which the ACLU calls "a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems."
The coronavirus pandemic had already forced officials to release over half of the youth held in detention out of concern that the virus could spread rapidly in confined spaces like prisons, jails and detention centers. Currently, 21 youths are held at the CFJC. In announcing the move to end detention at the CJFC, Constantine cited those releases as a sign that the county was able and ready to move towards community-based solutions that do not involve imprisonment.
"Phasing out centralized youth detention is no longer a goal in the far distance. We have made extraordinary progress and we have evolved to believe that even more can be done," Constantine wrote. "The COVID crisis has shown that things once deemed impossible are now possible, and we are challenging ourselves and the entire community to keep to that path."
Constantine says that with the center closed, its funding will instead be used for "healthy and community-based solutions that address the needs of youth and families."
Redemption begins by shifting public dollars away from systems that are rooted in oppression and into those that maintain public health and safety, and help people on a path to success.
— Dow Constantine (@kcexec) July 21, 2020
King County spent some $242 million dollars to develop the Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center, spending widely opposed by activists but which Constantine defended as necessary to replace an outdated and unsafe earlier facility.
The announcement of the CFJC's closure was celebrated widely online by the anti-youth detention movement, including Nikkita Oliver, a prominent activist and longtime opponent of the new youth jail.
Still others say more is yet to be done, and are asking why so much money was invested in the CFJC in the first place.
1- why only by 2025? Why not now? 2- Increased reliance on electronic home monitoring doesn’t count as zero youth detention. 3- We’ll believe it when we see it. 4- Why did the county build a $233 million jail when they could’ve built a $20 million youth achievement center?
— No New Youth Jail Coalition (@nnyjcoalition) July 21, 2020
As for the Seattle Jail's closure, that will happen in phases. The King County Correctional Facility was finished in 1986 and the county is says it's now obsolete and too expensive to maintain and operate. Like the CFJC, its closure would mean more money invested in prevention, diversion, rehabilitation and other alternatives to incarceration. The county says more information on its closure will be announced as the executive prepares the budget later this year.
Read the full announcement on the changes from the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention below: