Ursula: King County needs to drop its plan to close youth jail

Feb 2, 2024, 5:02 AM | Updated: 5:11 am

youth jail king county...

Entrance sign for Echo Glen Children's Center (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

From pajama-clad car prowlers to baby-faced burglars, we are bombarded with stories of crimes committed by teens every day. Police from agencies around Western Washington have told The Gee and Ursula Show they’re frustrated, even shocked, by the seriousness of the crimes being committed by kids not old enough to drive.

At the same time, there’s a push in King County to end the use of youth jails and, instead, focus on community-based alternatives. A new proposal by the county’s Care and Closure Advisory Committee calls for teen suspects to be held in a 24-hour center where kids facing serious charges could stay for up to three days or until their first court hearing.

Those who are considered higher risk would then be placed in group homes in different neighborhoods while they await trial. Each of these homes would have up to five people and would be run by community organizations with county supervision. Some would have locks, and some would only have staffers to keep youth from leaving.

What could possibly go wrong? This is crazy! Have you heard of the recent escapes from Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie?

Juvenile crimes in Washington: Teens who escaped Echo Glen have violent criminal histories

Holding youth accountable for their actions

While a “mistake” shouldn’t derail a young person’s life forever, I believe it’s a huge mistake to not hold youth accountable for their actions. We already see the ramifications of not doing so. Car theft charges against teens in King County went up by more than 500% last year. We’ve also seen a dramatic increase in charges involving violent crimes, including armed robbery.

More from Ursula Reutin: My mom lived a life that’s full; she did it her way

And you want these teen suspects to live in group homes in neighborhoods instead of a youth jail?

When Constantine first proposed closing down the juvenile detention center, it was the summer of 2020. There were protests against racial injustice and police violence after the murder of George Floyd. Some protesters called for an end to juvenile incarceration, pointing out that half the teens in detention were Black and that youth incarceration only perpetuated inequities in our criminal justice system. I agree that this is certainly a concern that needs to be addressed. But not having serious consequences for teens who commit serious crimes is not the answer.

Delay due to more time being needed: King County pauses plan to close juvenile detention centers by 2025

The county will hold community town halls to discuss the proposal over the next year. In the meantime, Constantine says the goal of shutting down the juvenile detention center by 2025 will not be met. He expects it to be delayed by a few years. I hope they drop the idea altogether.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m.- noon on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ursula: King County needs to drop its plan to close youth jail