2014 King County Youth Detention Admissions by Race
King County Youth Detention Admissions by Race

Despite an more than 70 percent drop in King County’s juvenile detention population since 1999, the racial disproportionality that remains in it has increased to unacceptable levels. About half the youth admitted to King County’s juvenile detention facility are black – while our black community only makes up a tenth of the County’s overall population. We find it just as intolerable that most court-involved youth struggle to find the support they need to succeed in life after growing up in unstable economic and care-giving backgrounds.

In partnership with community organizations, youth and school districts on the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee, King County has become the nation’s first urban region in recent memory to see the juvenile detention population and the racial disparities within it shrink at the same time. We plan to continue that work, and it’s far from over.

The King County Executive, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Superior Court, King County Council and Department of Public Defense have committed to:

  • Bring a Public Health mindset to juvenile justice programs including detention
  • Expand alternatives to juvenile detention with programs like FIRS, Peacemaking CirclesChoose 180, Creative Justice
  • Expand access to youth support networks and mentorship through partnerships like the Federal Way Youth Action Team 
  • Reform King County Juvenile Court’s warrant system to keep more youth out of detention
  • Create an on-call evening judge for Juvenile Court to review whether a youth should be held in detention
  • Bring to zero the number of youth admitted to detention for running away from home, curfew violation, truancy and other so-called “status violations” except in cases when a youth’s life is in danger
  • Cut in half the current number of detention beds, 212, to a cap of 112 detention beds in a smaller, more therapeutic replacement detention facility expected to open as part of the Children and Family Justice Center in 2020.

Confronting the causes of racial disparity—in criminal justice and throughout society—will require the partnership of everyone in the community, and we are ready to work with anyone who is willing to work with us. Making the justice system impervious to the mostly unacknowledged, but nevertheless real biases that each of us carry is a tall order, but we have to approach it as achievable.

— King County Executive Dow Constantine

We share these goals, and recognize we need to think of how to create more alternatives to detention. Superior Court commits to make every effort to avoid detention for these young people except when absolutely necessary.

— Susan Craighead, Presiding Judge, King County Superior Court

King County’s paradigm shift will be guided by the premise that we will build a juvenile justice system that values all our children and decriminalizes the misbehaviors that some children experience. Part of our system must require the decriminalizing of our youth—and that involves shifting towards a restorative and transformative justice model. We must provide the needed services and care to help our young people become productive human beings if our county is to live up to our namesake of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. County.

— Larry Gossett, King County Councilmember

There is an inconvenient truth that plagues our criminal justice system, including the juvenile justice system: racial and ethnic disproportionality. This truth leaves perceptions of injustice, unfairness, and a mistrust of the justice system.  This is unacceptable.  We must work to restore the community’s trust in us and to reform the criminal justice system.     

— Dan Satterberg, King County Prosecuting Attorney