King County Executive Dow Constantine released the following statement on the Children and Family Justice Center
Much has happened in our region and in our nation since the people voted to replace the aging Youth Services Center in 2012. Community conversations about policing and racial inequity helped spur important, innovative reforms in juvenile justice to keep young people out of the system and on track to healthy, productive lives. Thanks to social justice advocates, judges, and others, we have started programs like Family Intervention & Restorative Services that offer de-escalation counseling and other services to keep youth out of detention. It’s working: since the 1990’s, even as the county population rapidly grew, we have been able to reduce the average daily juvenile detention population by more than 70 percent. Last year alone, the average daily population for King County juvenile detention dropped by another 16 percent from 2015. And there’s so much more to do. We are always looking for the next innovation, the next step forward, the next partner who can help us go even further. And yet, we also confront the reality that too many teens have engaged in serious violence and caused suffering to others, and we must protect everyone in the community from harm as well.
As we pause for the city Hearing Examiner to review the Children and Family Justice Center, a process that should take at least until summer, I am taking steps to build bridges to anyone who wants better outcomes for youth. King County has achieved the lowest rate of youth incarceration in the nation. Now, in consultation with judges and members of the King County Council, I will ask that the county adopt a goal of Zero Youth Detention, with the mission of creating a community where detention for young people is no longer needed. To be successful, we must invest early in children and families, help our schools develop better ways to deal with challenging students, and offer effective support to families in crisis. Until we achieve this shared ambition, we will work to make youth detention brief, therapeutic, community-focused, and one-time.
In October, King County Superior Court conducted the first juvenile felony case to be handled through a community-driven, restorative justice process, rather than traditional prosecution. The case involved a 15-year-old facing two years imprisonment for stealing a cellphone and two pairs of Air Jordans from another teen. Instead of the standard trial and sentencing, he accepted responsibility and atoned for the crime by participating in a series of intense conversations, in family-counseling and self-reflection, and in apology to those he had harmed. In the end, he came away with things he had previously lacked in his life: a greater understanding of the feelings of others, and a second chance.
Along with King County Councilmembers and other officials and staff, I will be meeting with advocates and opponents in that same intensive process recently used by the courts to help individuals and families find new ways forward. These community Peacemaking Circles will inform our next steps: developing more housing options for youth charged with non-violent crimes, emphasizing therapeutic care, creating more robust community reviews of the detention population, devising new alternatives to detention, and helping youth take responsibility for their actions, among other strategies. I look forward to acting upon the solutions that emerge from this dialogue.
Every youth in detention represents a lost opportunity - a collective failure by the community to provide the support a child needs to arrive at kindergarten ready to thrive, to overcome the challenges that arise throughout the school years, to counteract the specific results of historical bias and entrenched racism in society. I have never talked to a local leader who disagreed with that proposition. We all want to reduce harm by making every child successful. It is, of course, easier said than done. This is a difficult issue that I and many others have spent countless hours considering, and working on. Our local leadership reflects the values of the community: we want to do better by all young people, and to protect people from violence and harm. With the right help, most teens - even those who have run into real problems - can make it through the turmoil of adolescence and go on to live fulfilling, productive lives, rather than becoming another statistic in a nation with the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world.
We know what truly makes a positive difference for young people, and we are making those investments like never in our history. Three years after the Youth Services Center vote, the people of King County passed my Best Starts for Kids initiative, providing $65 million annually for prevention, healthy child development, and early intervention at the first sign of problems for children and youth, as well as their families and communities. Best Starts for Kids seeks to ensure every baby is born healthy, and that all children are given the full and equal opportunity to thrive, regardless of privilege or position or luck.
All people must be protected from violence. All efforts must be made to reduce harm. There are no easy answers to issues raised in juvenile justice. But with a willingness to collectively take on this challenge, we can accomplish much good, and provide better futures for our young people.