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King County Committed to New Facility, Decreasing Youth Detentions

King County officials say the current youth detention center needs to be replaced because it is run down. (J/Flickr)
King County officials say the current youth detention center needs to be replaced because it is run down. (J/Flickr)
March 29, 2018

SEATTLE – Protests against a new youth detention center in King County continued this week, with opponents blocking the construction site and the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine. Protesters from No New Youth Jail say plans for the new facility run counter to the county's commitment to zero youth detentions.

However, Jimmy Hung, the chief deputy prosecutor with the juvenile division of the King County prosecuting attorney's office, says that goal can't be achieved overnight and that the current facility is run down and needs to be replaced.

"As the chief deputy prosecutor here, I actually believe in zero youth detention," he says. "I think that's something that we should all aspire to. For me, the fact that you have to lock youth up in a secure facility is a sign of an unhealthy community."

Hung says the Child and Family Justice Center, slated to open in 2020, will be a community resource hub for young people. He says his office is already working on diverting as many youths as possible from the juvenile justice system and that a number of pilot programs are underway to achieve this.

Opponents say people of color are over-represented in youth jails, pointing to the fact that half of the incarcerated youths in King County are black, despite making up 13 percent of its population. Hung says his office is also lessening the racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. He adds that decreasing the number of young people in detention centers is going to take long-term planning and work with communities.

"How do we invest in the kid who's being born today so that 14 years from now, they're not committing crimes and having to come to the juvenile court system?" he asks. "So for me, this isn't a sprint. This is a marathon."

The detention center was approved by voters six years ago and will cost $210 million. It's funded through a tax levy, although the language underlying that levy hit a roadblock in a Thurston County court last year.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA