Don't Cage Kids: No New Youth Jail in King County

We write today to ask King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Ed Murray to reconsider their support of a new youth detention facility.

On Thursday, December 22, the City of Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection will likely issue a Master Use Permit to begin construction on the proposed $210 million youth jail. The funding for this facility came from a 2012 levy that promised to build a facility that "services the justice needs of children and families" -- with no mention that its primary aim was to incarcerate children under the age of eighteen. So, voters passed a levy to provide funds for youth justice... but unfortunately, those funds will support the opposite: continuing the injustice of incarceration of our most vulnerable young people.

Countless studies have proved that youth incarceration is not the answer. It perpetuates a vicious cycle of criminalizing young folks; incarcerating a youth for low-level crimes makes them more likely to re-offend than those who were not incarcerated. Furthermore, incarcerating young people deepens the racial disparity inherent to the criminal justice system. In our county, only eight percent of youth are black, yet they currently represent about half of those detained.

Currently, only 27 young people are detained in King County; this new facility proposes 120 beds. Are we trying to more than quadruple the number of young people we incarcerate, or instead work to bring it down to zero? Furthermore, the county's own study of the existing youth detention facility described it as "generally in good condition" and said repairs to the existing structure would cost $795,981... not even a million, let alone over $200 million.

Imagine what could be done to support and uplift the young people in our county with $210 million. Many local organizations, such as EPIC, YUIR, Black Out WA, Creative Justice, Village of Hope and the larger #NoNewYouthJail Coalition, have done that visioning work, and are actively developing alternatives to youth incarceration. Even the Seattle City Council passed a resolution to work towards "zero use of detention for youth." That work should start today. In the words of Willard Jimerson, Jr., a young man from Seattle who was tried as an adult at the age of 13 and sentenced to over twenty years in prison, "We should not make permanent decisions on premature lives."

We don't think that King County -- a place that heralds the image of Martin Luther King, Jr., as its logo -- should be a place that perpetuates unjust systems. If you agree with us, please let your voice be known. Join us in asking King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Ed Murray to deny the permit and seek alternative ways to allocate the $210 million dollars to genuinely support youth justice.

This petition will be delivered to:
  • King County Executive Dow Constantine
  • City of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

    In Solidarity with the #NoNewYouthJail Coalition started this petition with a single signature, and now has 10,847 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.