LOCAL NEWS

King County judges aim to set record straight on youth detention center

May 28, 2019, 11:32 AM | Updated: 2:34 pm
youth detention, jail...
Seattle's new Children and Family Justice Center. (Hanna Scott, KIRO Radio)
(Hanna Scott, KIRO Radio)

The years-long controversy over King County’s new juvenile justice center has led to controversy, lawsuits, protests blocking traffic, heated council meetings, and more.

It’s been frustrating for Judge Judy Ramseyer. She’s the chief judge at King County Juvenile Court.

“I’ve been frustrated because the headline you always see is ‘No Youth Jail’ but it’s based on a misconception,” Ramseyer said.

“The misconception is that this huge building that’s going up about 50 feet away from us is a youth jail and it’s not a youth jail,” she said. “…it’s title is the Children and Family Justice Center. It houses so many things.”

While one of those things is absolutely a youth detention center, she says it’s a smaller operation than the current youth jail. It’s a very different setup than the one used now in an old, run down, dark facility in the Central District.

The effort to stop jailing Washington’s runaway foster kids
Protester explains opposition King County youth jail

“The new detention center just has natural life,” Ramseyer said. “It has light in all of its quadrants. It’s divided up into 16 bed pods. Detention needs separate pods because you want to separate out boys and girls; you separate out gang affiliations. So if you have young people from warring gangs you can’t put them in the same pod. They separate older youth from younger youth so that they’re not cross fertilizing. So you need more pods than you fill up.”

“Each pod has natural light, it has common areas, it has classrooms attached to it,” she said. “In the detention center there’s a new medical center with dental and medical services. There’s a school, there’s a gym, there’s a library, there’s garden space. It makes possible to provide all of these additional services within that setting.”

During the years-long battle between the county and “no youth jail” activists, one of the big questions has been: how can a county committed to zero youth detention be building a new facility? The answer: we’re simply not at a place yet where every kid can be diverted away from lock up. But that goal of zero youth detention is still a very active part of this new facility.

Two of those pods are what is known as transitional — meaning they’re unsecured. While Judge Ramseyer says the rest are for lock up, she says everyone — especially the critics — need to understand they don’t have to stay that way.

“The constriction is such that if our numbers continue to decline we can make two more [pods] non-secure, or make two more non-secure,” Ramseyer said. “So over time if the aspirational goal, zero youth detention, were in fact reached then all of the beds that are constructed now in that detention center could conceivably be transformed into transitional, residential units for emergency housing, or for substance abuse, or for mental health treatment, or whatever those services are that would be needed. So that’s incredible.”

The youth detention center is less than 20 percent of the cost and space in the new building.

The rest includes 10 courtrooms that don’t just deal with kids arrested for crime. There is also the civil side of cases, such as at-risk youth and truancy issues. There is a long term goal of taking that side even further, to include all family court business.

A huge part of this new facility is dedicated to having resources for these kids and their families all in one place — from groups that work with kids in gangs, to kids with drug issues or human trafficking victims and much more. All of these resources will be in this single building, and Judge Ramseyer says that is going to be huge.

“With the hope that we are actually both more efficient and effective at connecting these families with the service providers they need,” she said.

King County Superior Court Judge Mike Diaz handles the criminal offender side of juvenile court. He says every effort is made to divert youth to programs and keep them out of lock up, but the reality at this point is that can’t happen in every case.

Could ‘peace circles’ replace youth jails in King County

“These are a lot of kids whose families don’t want them, or don’t know what to do with them, or they are a danger to themselves out there, because they are being trafficked or are a danger to others, because of all sorts of reasons — mental health, substance abuse,” Diaz said. “Until we have some credible alternative to that, being in this building is not productive for these kids to engage with the system.”

Judge Ramseyer hopes sharing these details will help end the misconception about the new facility.

“I get the impression sometimes that people think we are running around in the community and picking up kids and throwing them in dingy cells somewhere,” she said. “And it’s not like that at all. There are so many programs designed to keep kids out of there. The vast majority of young people that have their first contact are kept out of the system. It’s not until it reaches a certain level of seriousness, or repetitiveness, that it comes to us. Then we try to double down. ”

“Double down” means connecting kids with services to keep them out of lock up and hopefully get the county to zero youth detention in the future.

Construction on the youth detention center started in 2017 and will open in stages, starting with the jail portion in October. It will be fully operational by 2021.

Local News

goalie...
Frank Sumrall

Kraken’s best-kept secret for its dramatic ascension this year? Goalie coach Steve Briere

Martin Jones was a cast-off. Grubauer lost his edge. And the Kraken's defense looked bleak — until Steve Briere showed up at Climate Pledge's front door.
11 hours ago
Lynnwood Clinic...
L.B. Gilbert

Lynnwood opioid clinic receives DOH license amid controversy

The Washington DOH just gave the final approval for a proposed opioid treatment clinic to open in Lynnwood.
11 hours ago
Homeless...
L.B. Gilbert

Regional Homeless Authority requests $12 billion for 5 year plan

How much money would it take to solve homelessness in Seattle? The KCRHA estimates that it would take roughly $11.8 billion to address homelessness.
11 hours ago
Judge, pot shop robbery...
Lisa Brooks

WA Corrections pays $600K settlement in sexual harassment lawsuit

Washington's Corrections Department has agreed to pay $600,000 dollars to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former intern.
11 hours ago
(Photo from KIRO 7)...
Shawn Garrett, KIRO 7 News

‘A double life’: Skagit County pastor accused of dealing drugs, money laundering

A Skagit County pastor who “admitted he leads a double life” was arrested in January with nearly three pounds of methamphetamine, fentanyl and cocaine
11 hours ago
A shopper checks out an item in a Target store in Pittsburgh on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. On Friday, t...
Associated Press

US inflation and consumer spending cooled in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge eased further in December, and consumer spending fell — the latest evidence that the Fed’s series of interest rate hikes are slowing the economy. Friday’s report from the Commerce Department showed that prices rose 5% last month from a year earlier, down from a 5.5% year-over-year […]
11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
King County judges aim to set record straight on youth detention center