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King County Executive Dow Constantine, coronavirus, youth detention
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King County Executive to phase out youth detention, King County Jail

King County Executive Dow Constantine and other state leaders speak to the press on March 28, 2020 in Seattle. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced Wednesday that he is committed to converting the remaining youth detention units at the Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) to other uses, no later than 2025.

Constantine tweeted that he plans to propose additional investments to create community-based solutions that better address the needs of youth and families in King County. He added that the CFJC was built as part of a goal for a safer, more restorative alternative for youth.

“Phasing out centralized youth detention is no longer a goal in the far distance,” Constantine tweeted. “We have made extraordinary progress and we have evolved to believe that even more can be done.”

Constantine is also expected to propose a phased closing of the adult King County Correctional Facility in favor of “diversion, prevention, rehabilitation, and harm reduction programs,” according to a memo from the director of the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.

The executive is expected to make a full announcement in his upcoming State of the County address, the date of which is yet to be determined.

Constantine did hold a brief conference Thursday to discuss his proposals, saying that it’s time to rethink old ways of doing business. Any alternative for detention would aim to be “less traumatic, more restorative, better for public safety, and a better use of public money,” Constantine said.

He said $3 out of every $4 in the King County general fund is spent on courts, crime, and corrections. While there has been a lot of talk about defunding the police, Constantine pointed out that we’re continuing to pay into a criminal justice and legal system when those funds could be better used to improve human services and public health, as examples.

Additionally, Constantine says the King County Corrections Facility is decrepit and expensive to operate.

“Every day we pay the price for its outdated design,” he said, recognizing that at some point, the old jail must come down.

The phased closure of the jail does not mean that there will be no detention for violent criminals, but Constantine says we need to get to the root of the problem. For those who do need to be detained, there needs to be a detention system that helps them be less likely to commit crimes, not more likely, Constantine said, and helps them get back on track. Constantine is proposing we direct our energy into breaking the cycle, which will make the community safer as a result.

He also says working toward zero youth detention and alternative solutions needs to be a community conversation.

“No one gets to be the one voice to define what will work for the community,” he said.

The number of adults and youth in local detention centers was previously reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulty of ensuring everyone could follow proper social distancing measures, have access to adequate protective equipment, and have the ability to contain any potential outbreak.

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The memo states, and Constantine also clarified Thursday, that any phased closure of the jail is not expected to take place until after the pandemic is under control.

Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County has been fighting against the new youth jail since it was first announced, the group said in a statement Wednesday. Earlier this month, BLMSKC issued a written set of demands to Constantine and local leaders that included ending youth incarceration in King County by the end of 2025.

“We do not serve our children, especially Black, Indigenous, and other children of color, by focusing our energy and resources on them serving time,” said Livio De La Cruz, board member with BLMSKC. “We want a system that supports youth and helps them lead healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives. Their lives matter. Ending youth incarceration is the right thing to do for our children, their families, and all of us.”

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