Seattle council may breathe new life into fight against new youth jail

SEATTLE — In a packed hearing Tuesday night at Seattle University, people voiced opposition to a new Child and Family Justice center, hoping that Seattle council members would act to help them in their appeal of the building permit.

King County was given approval for the permit of a new, $225 million facility to replace the existing youth services center. King County voters approved the new facility in 2012.

But opposing groups appealed the permit decision by going to the Seattle Hearing Examiner.

The hearing examiner determined on March 1 that she did not have jurisdiction over this case and thereby dismissed it.

Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien said this was due to a technicality. Citizens can appeal to the hearing examiner if a project is on a specific list. O’Brien said the council’s intent was always to allow for citizens to be able to appeal this permit, but councilmembers had left the project off that particular list.

Tuesday night, O’Brien and Kshama Sawant voted to move an amendment to the full council which would put the Child and Family Justice Center project on the list of appealable projects.

Meanwhile, opponents have gone to King County Superior Court in hopes that a judge can order the city hearing examiner to reopen the case. A lawyer representing the opponents said the council’s amendment would help convince a judge to rule in their favor.

Lynne Levine was among a group called the “Raging Grannies” who attended Tuesday night’s hearing.

Levine said she prefers restorative justice methods: “The circles come together at public hearings with the victim and the perpetrator. And work out things together. That can replace any kind of juvenile justice system…We don’t need to build another jail. We can use the building that’s being used; only we can use it for positive things.”

Another speaker, Asha Heru, asked the room full of people if any of them had been inside a federal prison. She said if taxpayer money was spent on solving the root causes of youth criminal activity, there would be no need for incarceration.

“These kids are in there because they don’t have what they need – they don’t have money for their mom’s medication,” Heru said.

But a video produced by King County showed a dilapidated youth services center, with staff members calling for a more inviting space for programs to happen.

In that video, Dana Dildine, Parents for Parents Program Coordinator, said, “It’s dark, there’s no light. And I sometimes think – if I’m feeling that way, imagine the parents I work with – how they’re feeling when they come here.”

In the same video, staff members talked about leaking windows and brown water.

The video featured Pam Jones, director of the juvenile division, saying, “The biggest thing for us is that we have no program space. Not just the physical kind of defects of it, but we just don’t have a lot of space to do programming for kids.”

In a statement, King County Executive Services’ County Administrative Officer Caroline Whalen referred to the amendment Seattle council will be considering, labeled Council Bill 118963:

We look forward to building the modern, therapeutic and community-centered replacement for the outdated Youth Services Center that King County voters approved in 2012. The new facility will provide a respectful and supportive environment to link youth and families – court involved or not – with services and non-profit organizations in their own communities.

Council Bill 118963 appears to be an attempt to delay the construction of the CFJC. Delaying CFJC construction requires King County to continue paying high costs required for maintenance and renovation of the existing Youth Services Center. Given that state law requires the County to operate a juvenile detention facility, until the CFJC project is complete, King County will have no option but to continue operating the existing facility--an aged, institutional style environment with 100 more beds than necessary. As City Councilmembers are aware, unnecessary project delays also risk additional project cost at taxpayer expense.