Opinion, Youth

OP-ED: Seattle’s Youth Need More Than New Jail


By Elizabeth C. Brown

On August 7, 2012, King County voters narrowly approved a $210 million levy to replace the dilapidated Youth Services Center (YSC) with a new Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) to be built in 2018. The levy is restricted to capital costs, or facilities construction, and cannot be used for maintaining or creating services. Located on 12th and Alder in Seattle’s Central District, YSC facilities include courtrooms, schools, and detention space for youth.

Proponents of the levy have compared the current conditions of the YSC to child abuse, however they fail to see that building new jail facilities within the CFJC is a form of child abuse that makes entire youth populations disposable by depriving them of future education and job opportunities. If King County wants to serve youth and families, it must not build detention facilities within the CFJC.

The CFJC vision statement declares that new facilities will express King County’s commitment to justice and “cultural diversity.” African-American youth, however, make up around 40 percent of the detained population and are twice as likely to be arrested and referred to court as white youth, even though both groups commit crimes at the same rates. Racial disparities in King County’s juvenile justice system are matched by disproportionate rates of exclusionary discipline in Seattle Public Schools. The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating SPS for expelling and suspending black students at nearly three times the rate of white students. Pushed out of the public school system, suspended and expelled youth are more likely to be funneled into the juvenile justice system and will face increased challenges in gaining education, employment, and housing.

While the 2013 average daily population of youth in detention hovered around 60, King County plans to build detention capacity for 154 youth at the CFJC. King County will be under pressure to fill this extra space, and proponents of the new jail have already suggested that extra detention space be used for homeless youth or in-treatment drug programs. This is both unjust and inhumane. The Justice Policy Institute reports that detention harms youth by increasing rates of mental illness, criminal behavior, and recidivism. Instead of making communities stronger, detention weakens communities by inflicting trauma on youth and their families, and, in turn, making all of us more—not less—vulnerable to crime.

King County’s display of “cultural diversity” is meant to target the new whiter, wealthier population that has been moving into the Central District over the last twenty years and not the youth and families it says it serves. The CFJC will further appeal to this population by opening 3 acres of the 9.5 acre property to private development, including retail, restaurants, and condos.

Instead of detention space, King County could build capacity for diversion programs, including classrooms, community meeting rooms, or other spaces that don’t cage youth. Seattle residents need to join local efforts to demand King County use levy money to create spaces that will not dispose of youth who are systematically failed by Seattle’s education and juvenile justice systems.

Elizabeth C. Brown is a Ph.D candidate in English at the University of Washington and member of Seattle’s End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC). Photo/Celia Berk, from the Night of Expression, a community event organized by Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR), a group of multigenerational activists (mostly youth), who have been working for the past year to raise awareness about the new youth jail. The event featured an open-mic, and the kids above talked about why they don’t want to have a new jail.

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7 Comments on "OP-ED: Seattle’s Youth Need More Than New Jail"

Tom T
1 year 5 months ago
1 year 5 months ago

Conswella, What do you do with those that don’t take “help … with whatever is they are struggling with.” We should offer it each and every time. But what do you do with those lead to water who won’t drink? How are we protected from them? More importantly, how are we not setting up for long-term incarceration when they are doing the same things on their 18th birthday, that they merely got their hands slapped for as juveniles?

See examples of such juveniles from a recent e-mail sent to the community by the S. Precinct which follows. You do realize that under current state law, the three juveniles arrested, within blocks of the schools they are supposed to attend must be arrested and convicted five times of possession of a firearm before they can receive incarceration. It’s catch and release until the 5th conviction.

GO# 14-160189

On Thursday, May 22nd at about 1:30pm, CPT Officers stopped five male teens in a secluded area in the 4500 block of South Henderson Street. The smell of marijuana was in the air and around the teens. They exhibited signs of recently smoking. Several admitted to leaving school and stopping there to smoke some marijuana. As officers investigated further, they got the teens names and contact information for their parents.

School Resource Officer S. Brathwaite was asked to come by and help identify the teens. Officer Brathwaite immediately identified one teen with an outstanding felony warrant. This teen had been in two previous foot pursuits with officers and was immediately taken into custody. Just then one of the other teens decided to run; after about 10 feet he dropped a loaded semi-automatic gun. Officers gave pursuit and quickly apprehended the teen. Officers found that the gun was loaded with hollow point bullets. The warrant suspect had another fully loaded magazine for that semi-automatic gun in his pocket. Officers learned that the gun had been stolen earlier in the year in Renton.

All five teens were arrested and transported to the South Precinct, pending charges of Minors in Possession of Marijuana. The 14 year-old who fled was booked into the Youth Service Center for Investigation of Unlawful Possession of a Firearm. The 15-year-old was booked in to the Youth Service Center for the warrant and Investigation of Unlawful Possession of a Firearm. The other three teens were released to adult family members.

This is a great example of addressing a minor infraction and discovering a much bigger offense. Kudos to Sergeant A. Martin, G. Fliegel, Officer M. Hurst, Officer B. Krise, Officer S. Martinell, and Officer C. Toman and Seattle Police School Resource Officer S. Brathwaite.

GO# 14-169846

On May 30th, 2014 at approximately 12:10pm, Officer M. Hurst and Officer B. Krise were patrolling the Atlantic City Boat Ramp and Beer Sheva Park area of Rainier Beach. Officer Hurst saw four subjects who appeared to be juveniles (three males and one female) walk toward a secluded part of the park known to officers through a number of previous contacts as a location to drink alcohol. Officers decided to make contact.

As officers approached group, one subject threw a small black bag to the ground. As officers got closer, the same individual threw down a clear plastic baggie containing marijuana. Officers told the group to they were being detained because officers believed they were minors in possession of marijuana. A truant officer from Rainier Beach High School had come over to the park, identified the female as being one of her students, and officers allowed the student to go with her teacher back to the school.

Concerned that one of the subjects may be in possession of a firearm, officers conducted a frisk for weapons. The subject who had thrown down the baggies had a backpack in his possession. Officer C. Toman moved the backpack off the bench away from the subjects. While moving the unzipped backpack, Officer Toman could clearly see a hand gun sitting in the bag. He placed the bag to the ground and then all three subjects were placed in handcuffs and transported to the South Precinct so they could be interviewed in Spanish.

The adult of the group was released from the Precinct. One of the teen males was processed and released to his mother. The teen male with the back pack and the marijuana, was booked into the Youth Service Center for Violation of the Uniform Firearm Act (VUFA) as minor in possession of a firearm, and for Minor in Possession of Marijuana. All received a Parks Exclusion.

Excellent job on the part of Sergeant A. Martin, Officer M. Hurst, Officer B. Krise, Officer C. Toman, with assist and support by Officer G. Barreto, Officer D. Boggs and Officer M. Irwin.

GO# 14-176450

On 6/4/2014 at approximately 11:40am, CPT Officers were on bicycle patrol at the Atlantic City Boat Ramp. While riding through the parking lot, officers saw four subjects next to two vehicles in the Northwest corner of the boat ramp. Officers could smell the strong distinct odor of burning marijuana originating from the group and saw two of the subjects smoking a marijuana cigarette known as a “blunt.”

As officers approached, one of the subjects was seen tossing away the blunt. Officers noted the two vehicles nearby had open windows. Inside one vehicle officers could clearly see a gun on the passenger floorboard. Both vehicles belonged to two of the youths. Officers obtained consent to search the vehicle and recovered a Taurus .38 Special loaded with hollow point ammunition. The other vehicle owner gave consent to search, in which officers found a sandwich sized Ziploc baggy with marijuana. All four admitted to smoking marijuana.

The female vehicle owner was interviewed and released from the Precinct. The male teen had an extensive history of robbery and burglary; he was booked into the Youth Service Center on Violation of the Violation of the Uniform Firearm Act and also faces Minor in Possession charges. The other two teens were released from the scene after receiving a Park Exclusion notice

Again, we recognize the efforts of Sergeant A. Martin, Officer G. Fliegel, Officer M. Hurst, Officer B. Krise, Officer C. Toman, with assistance and back up by Acting Sergeant R. Huserik, Officer E. Beseler, Officer D. Boggs, and Officer J. Welch.

1 year 5 months ago

Also @Kevin Barth, u should walk the shoes of who you accuse. Actually what Carol said needs no response only change. She just gave a first hand account of injustice and that is the system.

You being an educator, I can understand where you are coming from because I know it can be frustrating for a teacher to teach with kids in the class with behavior problems. That’s the perfect opportunity to empower a child of if schools have staff members in place to help children with whatever they are struggling with. That’s what we need to do. Maybe you didn’t sign up for that but I think that’s what we need in teacher’s.

My thought is if they are going to spend 210 million dollars on something do it to provide a future for our youth to be outstanding citizens. Use it to help make things fair and just and provide opportunities

1 year 6 months ago

Oh, and I forgot to add that your comment completely ignores Carol’s point that the deck is stacked against people who are not White.

1 year 6 months ago

@kevin barth, How fortunate for you that you don’t understand from personal experience how difficult it is for people who were raised in dysfunctional environments to do a much better job of raising their children. That isn’t to say that it’s impossible – just difficult. As a society, I believe it’s in our collective best interest to devote resources to trying to help people when they are having difficulties.

kevin barth
1 year 6 months ago

Give me a break. Don’t point the finger at the systems without pointing the finger at the very community that sucks them dry. Systems don’t raise children. Unfortunately, as an educator, we are asked to clean up the mess we did not create and minimize the impact on students who actually come to learn and take away whatever advantages come with education. Success of children is based on families who assume responsibility, live within their means, plan and make conscious choices, provide nurturing and support and don’t subject them to the lowest human denominator. We don’t make the mess. We try to clean it up.

So much easier to point the finger at systems rather than asking individuals to take personal responsibility. If you don’t want to see your child in detention then do the things as a parent that minimize the likelihood. If parents provided the consequences for anti-social behaviors then maybe the systems would not. Meanwhile I see the detention center as a necessary but unfortunate indictment of people depending on systems to raise their children instead of making commitments sacrifices for the betterment of their own families.

1 year 6 months ago

My daughter and her boyfriend got busted in separate incidents a couple of years ago for the same crime. She got 40 hours of community service and a boat load of counseling (that basically put money back into the pockets of the system that charged her). Her boyfriend who is not white, spent two years trying to extricate himself from the justice system, including house arrests, juvie, rehab and being shuffled to some special school that is a useless waste of time. Even at the end of two years, the prosecutor was trying to put him back in juvie for reasons none of us understood, and the judge finally said enough and took him off probation.

It was my first glimpse of the reality that minority kids get sucked into a whole different system than white kids do, and I can see easily how it would be the end of a chance for a productive life if you have a child who is struggling just to keep his head above water.