#TBT: 100+ years of King County juvenile-justice reports posted in new digital archive

"The welfare of children is a community responsibility and the juvenile court exists only to safeguard its residue of failures." -- 1918 Seattle Juvenile Court report

“The welfare of children is a community responsibility and the juvenile court exists only to safeguard its residue of failures.” — 1918 Seattle Juvenile Court report

Prepare yourself for one of the nerdier #TBTs you’ll see today.

We’re dedicating a Throw-back Thursday to a new digital archive of King County Juvenile Court annual reports that stretches back to more than a century ago. Most of the reports issued since 1911 are now posted on the King County Superior Court website (we’ll keep on tracking down some of those missing years).

A look back at these reports shows how long Superior Court judges have known about the importance of connecting more children to the guidance and support they need before ever becoming court-involved.

Community intervention

A report from 1936 — titled “The Juvenile Problem in King County, Washington and Its Solution by Community Action” — emphasizes the importance of community groups in keeping youth from being involved in the court system and gives instruction on how local communities can take initiative in creating their own youth support councils.

“Criminal careers usually start in the early years of youth and many of these problems can be adjusted and corrected through the united efforts of various agencies within a community,” the report reads.

In its suggested phases for developing a community council, the report emphasizes that each council needs to understand the unique needs of their own community, and use an established community organization such as a school district to help convene it.

“While the Juvenile Court and Probation Department stand ready at all times to encourage and assist in every possible way the formation and operation of such councils, such participation cannot in any sense supplant community action.”

Police intervention

A quote on the cover of the 1917 report makes Judge King Dykeman’s point of view clear: “To assist the effectual rearing of one child without juvenile court aid is better social service than fostering two through this judicial agency.”

The same 1917 report highlights a program similar in spirit to the Seattle-area’s LEAD (Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion) program, in that it uses police to divert people away from court and toward other interventions that reduce misconduct. By using “police interviews” and “neighborhood adjustments” instead of court to improve youth behavior, diagnostician Lilburn Merrill says in the report that the Seattle Police Department’s Juvenile and Women’s Protective Bureau kept Juvenile Court from being “unduly congested.”

Merrill also credited the bureau as being crucial to keeping children away from the stigma of being court-involved, which can have lasting effects on the child’s life.

“Citizens should recognize the importance of this work, and support the Chief of Police in maintaining an efficient bureau for the adjustment of such juvenile complaints,” Merrill wrote.

Past vs. Future

To be clear: Not all of the recommendations in these historical reports would find wide support today. Some reports mention regrettable practices and ideas as well. Many juvenile-justice practices have improved by leaps and bounds in King County since then.

But ignoring the past — and the present — is no way to build a better future.  So juvenile-justice reform researchers and advocates, we hope you find the new opportunity to peruse these reports useful.

We owe a hat-tip to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office staff for being kind enough to scan the reports and another to King County Superior Court for compressing and posting them online.