Seattle mayor responds to criticism of juvenile jail
Dec 22, 2016, 5:51 AM | Updated: 10:17 am
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s house on Capitol Hill Tuesday night, chanting and urging him to do something about a proposed juvenile jail.
The crowd chanted, “Deny the permit. Hurry. Hurry. We know where you live, Mayor Murray.”
The protest was organized by “Block the Bunker” an activist group that is known for its opposition to a proposed North Seattle police precinct. The group flooded council meetings, chanting and vehemently demanded the city abandon its plans to build the police station. The city did just that this fall.
Now Block the Bunker is opposed to a juvenile detention center under the purview of King County and funded through a voter-approved 2012 levy. The county wants to build it in Seattle. And it is currently going through the permitting process. The city could approve or deny the master permit for the juvenile jail as early as Dec. 22.
Block the Bunker recently posted on its Facebook page before they protested outside Murray’s home:
Mayor Murray, Dow Constantine, the City of Seattle, and King County intend to give our children and families a new children jail for the holidays … let them know why it’s hypocritical to say we’re going to make Seattle a Sanctuary City then build a jail to cage our youth!
The group is urging people to flood city official’s mailboxes and phone lines with complaints over the juvenile jail. They say it is wrong to imprison youth and cite racial disparities within the juvenile justice system. Block the Bunker also has started an online petition for the issue. By Thursday night it reached its 1,500 signature goal, and upped it to 2,500.
Among those who signed the online petition is Seattle hip-hop artist Macklemore, who was further promoting the petition through his social media.
In a statement released to the South Seattle Emerald, Macklemore said:
I signed the letter and shared it with people because I think we can find better alternatives than incarcerating young people. Instead of spending over $200 million on a new jail facility, imagine if we invested in solutions that truly promote rehabilitation, like restorative justice practices, mental health services, education and job training for youth.
Like adult prisons, incarcerating young people disproportionately impacts communities of color. In King County, only 8% of the youth population is black, yet they account for roughly half of the young people detained. Especially in today’s political climate, Seattle has an amazing opportunity to be a leader in finding different approaches to incarceration and beginning to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. I support the #NoNewYouthJail Coalition’s important work and sustained engagement.
Murray responds to jail protesters
On Wednesday evening, however, Mayor Murray responded to the criticism, explaining his position as mayor. In short, it’s not as simple as a mayor saying “no” to the juvenile jail.
The City of Seattle issues nearly 800 master use permits annually. Those permits are issued by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) according to technical criteria having to do solely with land use and environmental issues. King County applied for a master use permit for the new Children and Family Justice Center, with a decision from SDCI to be announced shortly. King County has designed and is funding the project, which resulted from a 2012 levy supported by County voters.
The Office of the Mayor cannot intervene in any permitting decision, including this one, as it is a technical decision based on the County’s application. As the City Hearing Examiner’s decision on Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle clarified, the City must base any permit decision on the technical design facts in a permit application, and not on any policy considerations.
I recognize that significant racial disparities exist in our City and ultimately our goal is to keep all young people from entering the criminal justice system and I will continue to direct City resources to ending these disparities in foundational areas such as education, employment, and criminal justice.