Transforming juvenile justice: excerpt from 2018 State of the County Address

King County Executive Dow Constantine delivered his 2018 State of the County Address this week. In it, he outlined his vision for transforming juvenile justice, including a new approach that uses a public health lens to help youth in crisis.

Watch or read the excerpt of the State of the County that focuses on juvenile justice below. You can also read or view the entire address on

I have spent considerable time, and much thought, on how to further reduce the number of youth in detention while also eliminating racial and ethnic disparities.

How to keep families strong. How to keep communities safe.

Not even a week ago, just a short distance from here, two young lives were cut short. We mourn, as we always do, when children die of violence.

Violence begets violence.

Trauma creates trauma.

We must break the cycle.

Since 2002, we have reduced the average daily population of young people in the juvenile system at the Youth Services Center from 212 to fewer than fifty – in fact, 39 as of this past Friday – the lowest in the nation for a jurisdiction the size of King County.

Youth are brought by one of the more than dozen police agencies throughout King County. About a quarter are presented at booking by the Seattle Police Department. Many are diverted to alternatives or sent home. Most of the rest are out of detention in three to five days.

Even though these young people are at the Youth Services Center for such a short time, any length of time in detention can be traumatic.

We must do better for them, to help their families heal, to help those victimized by crime heal, to look upstream and reduce the trauma and inequities that will inevitably lead other youth into trouble.

I set a goal of Zero Youth Detention and asked Deputy Executive Rhonda Berry to lead its implementation.

Zero Youth Detention serves as a guidepost for transformational change. It forces us to ask in every situation: what can we do to give this kid the best chance at redemption and a better life? What could we have done differently? And what can we do for other young people so that they may never be in a similar situation?

Today, as part of that effort, I am announcing a major reform in how we approach juvenile services.

A cross-government team chaired by Public Health Director Patty Hayes and Superior Court Chief Administrative Officer Paul Sherfey determined that a public health approach is appropriate for all children, youth and families – whether they are formally involved in the justice system or not.

They said youth and families should be supported before, and if necessary during and after they are involved in the justice system.

They called for all systems serving youth and families – schools, courts, human services, housing – to share accountability for providing support and connections.

Solutions reside in the community, and only through authentic partnerships can we achieve better outcomes.

I emphatically agree, and I have an announcement: to further that vision, all of our work within the Juvenile Division of the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention will be placed in the care of Public Health.

Dominique Davis, co-founder and chief executive of Community Passageways, said it best. He noted that when a young person is placed in detention, there is, in his words, “an impact on the communities’ health, one that is felt for countless generations to come.”

Dom went on to say that it “would be profound if, for once, the system and community had a partnership to change the criminal justice legacy, rather than the system responding belatedly.”

To Dom – and all those on this journey to zero youth detention – I want to affirm that we are committed to this change, and to creating the legacy we all want to leave for youth today, and for generations to come.

“Everyone can have a success story.”

Those words are from a young woman who met Dom after she faced assault and theft charges, and chose to participate in Community Passageways instead of serving time in detention.

She was all of 16.

Jahila Moody finished the program but fell back with the same old crowd. It was Dom who called every day, made sure she got to school and to work, and helped her find the strength to change.

How’s this for a schedule: At work at Starbucks at 3:30 in the morning, off by 10:30, online classes from 11:00 to 3:30, and then a few hours for her passion: dance.

Jahila graduated from high school on time. She now works for the University of Washington on juvenile justice issues and is part of our Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee Youth Advisory Group.

Let’s hear it again: “Everyone can have a success story.”

I want to recognize Jahila and Dominique and all those who pour their hearts and souls into making a better life for young people.

In the last legislative session, we convinced lawmakers to change state law so that county prosecutors can divert more kids to alternatives to adjudication and detention. This is another opportunity for us to help communities build more capacity to help reduce detention, reduce recidivism, and reduce disproportionality.

And here’s an update: last year, I announced the creation of a place where young people could go to take a breath, to push the pause button, get out of an unhealthy situation. This space would serve as another off-ramp for young people who may be on the trajectory to further conflict and involvement with the criminal justice system.

It is now open in Auburn with room for eight kids.

The 24-hour on-call team of social workers and problem-solvers is now taking phone calls from law enforcement and families in crisis.

We are making a difference in the lives of young people. We have been able to dramatically reduce the number of kids booked for crimes, and the number in detention, and we are now able to make the transition to Public Health because of the leadership of Judge Inveen and Judge Saint Clair and others; of Sheriff Johanknecht, Prosecutor Satterberg, Defense Director Youngcourt, Detention Director Hayes, Juvenile Division Director Jones, and of Councilmembers including Larry Gossett, whose commitment to justice and civil rights inspires us all.

We will do everything in our power to make sure young people who have been hurt, have the chance to heal – and those who may have stumbled are able to catch their step, regain their balance, and find their stride.