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Protecting the rights of Juveniles in Custody

Summary

County Council adopts legislation prohibiting youths in incarceration from interrogation without having consulted an attorney

Story

The Metropolitan King County Council today gave its unanimous approval to legislation that creates a significant and important change in King County’s juvenile justice system. The legislation prohibits law enforcement from interrogating a juvenile before the juvenile has an opportunity to consult with an attorney.

“When a child is put in a County jail, it is the County’s duty to keep the child safe and look out for the child’s best interest,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, the prime sponsor of the legislation.

Since nearly 70 percent of the children in detention in King County are youth of color, advocates argue the county’s current practice is inherently discriminatory.

“The racial disparities in our criminal justice system are glaring and intolerable,” Upthegrove said. “This legislation is a common sense approach that attacks those disparities, follows the brain science and keeps our kids safe.”

The U. S. Supreme Court has found that youth are more vulnerable to police pressure than adults and often lack the experience, perspective, and judgment to recognize and avoid choices that could be detrimental to them.

“The new legislation is consistent with both the science and with the County’s commitment to equity and social justice, said Attorney Anita Khandelwal, policy director at the Office of Public Defense. “Making sure that these children speak with advocates who can explain the system before they make a decision is an important first step in making our system more equitable and fair.”

More recently, this issue has gained national attention. In December 2016, after the U.S. Justice Department’s 20-month investigation into discriminatory practices by family court officials in St. Louis County, Missouri, the Justice Department and St. Louis County signed a memorandum of understanding prohibiting police interrogations at the county’s juvenile detention center “unless an attorney is present to represent the juvenile.” This has also prompted state legislatures around the country to hear similar language to Councilmember Upthegrove’s legislation.

“I work with kids every day that would have benefited greatly from legal counsel in some of their situations,” said Kendrick Glover, Director of Glover Empowerment Mentoring. “I thank Councilmember Upthegrove for his leadership in taking a positive step in working to reduce the disparities in our juvenile justice system.”

The adopted legislation would ensure that every juvenile must consult with an attorney before making the decision about whether to speak with police officers.
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206-477-1000
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206-296-1024
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206-296-0198