(The Center Square) – King County Executive Dow Constantine has announced a six-part strategy to implement alternatives to end traditional youth detention in the county, but state law still stands in the way.
Constantine first committed in July 2020 to converting youth detention units at the county’s Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center to other uses.
He said he is committed to phasing out centralized youth detention no later than 2025.
The six recommendations are:
Creating a 24/7 respite and receiving center that all youth under 18 years old would be taken upon arrest;
Providing short-term respite housing at the center for youth who cannot go home due to safety reasons;Providing immediate support to youth returning home to their families or are placed in kinship care with extended family members;Providing oversight to a network of community care homes where youth would stay while their court case proceeds if they are unable to go home because of safety concerns;Improving community infrastructure and capacity to ensure youth have access to and can benefit from youth and family-centered supports, regardless of whether they are at home, with a relative, or at a community care home; andEnsuring the next steps for these recommendations are centered on input, expertise, and ideas of the community members most directly impacted by the youth legal system.
The Advisory Committee strongly supported the third, fifth and sixth recommendations. The first and second recommendations did not achieve consensus among the committee members.
“I want to thank the Advisory Committee for these significant and transformative recommendations that outline the vision,” Constantine said in a statement. “Now, we will work across agencies to resource and implement these strategies, including working with [the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention] to improve conditions in the existing detention facility as we turn that vision into a reality.”
However, state law requires King County to operate a youth detention center to detain youth for certain offenses. Unless the proposed alternative facilities can comply with the requirements, the statutes will need to be repealed or amended so that the county is not obligated to have a youth detention center.
Constantine has indicated his intention to work with state legislators to propose and adopt state legislative priorities to make the changes to the state’s existing statutes.
Research presented to the King County Council last August found that youth detention and incarceration fail to produce the desired outcomes of rehabilitation. Furthermore, youth who spend time in detention are more likely to be arrested and punished for future delinquent behavior.
From 2021 through the end of the third quarter of 2023, the average daily population of youth in secure detention increased from 22 to 41 youth. According to the Advisory Committee’s final report, this is likely due to an increase in complexity of cases and needs of the young people in detention and COVID-19 related backlogs.
The next phase of planning and implementation of the strategies are anticipated to take until at least 2028.