Public Health – Seattle & King County and its partners will work with community on a reform plan that will improve training support for staff who work with youth in detention, expand innovative programs and alternatives to detention, and ensure that transitions out of detention are linked to an overall plan for each youth’s success. 

Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess and King County Executive Dow Constantine announce the restructuring of juvenile justice services under a public health model at a news conference (video).

As part of King County’s commitment to reduce traumatization of youth in detention, eliminate racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and advance the goal of zero youth detention, Executive Constantine directed a multi-departmental team under the oversight and direction of Public Health – Seattle & King County to draft a proposal reorganizing juvenile detention services.

In addition, Executive Constantine announced that King County will contract with a third-party validator, New York-based Vera Institute of Justice, to review its juvenile detention policies and practices, and recommend potential reforms.

“By adopting a public health approach, we limit the traumatization of youth in detention, and ensure families have access to supports and services in the community,” said Executive Constantine. “Our Juvenile Detention Officers have embraced restorative justice, and they understand the challenges of adolescence. This Executive Order directs a comprehensive process with input from our officers and others to make a successful transition to Public Health, so that we can fully take advantage of all available resources and strategies to make a difference in the lives of our young people.”

“The data on youth incarceration is clear. Simply locking young people up does not reduce recidivism and may in fact increase the likelihood that young offenders will reoffend,” said Mayor Tim Burgess. “Here in Seattle, we already do better than a lot of jurisdictions in limiting the number of young people we detain and in steering troubled youth toward rehabilitative services when possible. But we can do more. Placing our juvenile detention system under the direction of Public Health is the right move for our young people, for the community as a whole, and for the goal of bringing research-backed solutions to the challenge of criminal justice reform.”

The reorganization proposal will be created with input from the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee, the Children and Youth Advisory Board, criminal justice systems partners, and other community stakeholders. It will also identify potential labor impacts and other considerations.

A fiscal analysis will be developed prior to the 2019-2020 budget proposal.

Currently, the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention oversees operations at the Youth Services Center on East Alder Street.

Juvenile Detention has always employed a multi-disciplinary approach to delivering services to youth. Ninety-eight percent of the 131 current staff involved with the Youth Services Center have a college degree and extensive training. Staff will remain consistent in any potential reorganization, which will create the systems, services, and programs to support safe communities and the lifelong well-being of youth.

The young people who enter detention face a range of challenging life experiences and most will return to their communities in a matter of days. The Public Health approach will build on the promising efforts underway to transform Juvenile Detention into an environment that limits further traumatization, promotes resilience, and ensures youth and their families have access to needed supports and services.  This approach ultimately leads to better life success for youth and safer communities.

Public Health and its partners will be working with community and system partners toward the best possible environment and services for youth in detention. For example, Public Health’s system and community partners will support training of staff to work with youth in detention, expanding innovative programs and alternatives to detention, and ensuring that the transitions out of detention are linked to an overall plan for each youth’s success.

In addition, multiple professional service providers and volunteers deliver services in association with the facility including:
• 910 volunteers
• 40 professional service providers (School, Library, Health Clinic, Chaplain)
• 30 from the Michael Bennett Foundation, Pearl Jam, and the Seattle Seahawks
• 106 Worship Service volunteers

In the News

The Seattle Times: ‘Bold step’ King County to look at youth crime a public-health risk

The Stranger: Executive Order calls for Public Health approach to juvenile justice

KOMO: King County plans new approach to juvenile justice system