King County is committed to cultivating  communities where residents are safe and free from systemic oppression and marginalization. Learn more about why Zero Youth Detention is a priority for the County.


All youth in King County deserve to grow into happy, healthy adults. Research shows that youth have a better chance at positive adulthood when they don’t interact with the juvenile legal system. Zero Youth Detention calls for partnering with youth, families, employees, and communities and building on their strengths so that communities are safe, legal system involvement is limited or avoidable, and all youth have the opportunity to be happy, healthy, safe, and thriving.

The Road Map to Zero Youth Detention

The Road Map to Zero Youth Detention is King County’s strategic plan to not only further reduce the use of secure detention for youth, but to launch this County on a journey to eliminate it. Building on 20 years of reducing the secure detention population, this region begins the journey to Zero Youth Detention with momentum. Informed by youth and their families, communities, and employees whose work touches the lives of youth, the Road Map outlines practical solutions designed to improve community safety, help young people thrive, keep them from entering the juvenile legal system, divert them from further legal system involvement, and support strong, unified communities.

Learn more and view the the Road Map ➜

A Public Health Approach to Zero Youth Detention

In November 2017, the King County Executive called for using a public health approach as part of King County’s commitment to review juvenile detention and advance the goal of zero youth detention.Through this approach, community and system partners come together to promote the positive development and well-being of all youth, expand the use of the best evidence and promising practices on adolescent development, and ensure that the collective response to youth in crisis restores them on a path towards well-being.

Public Health – Seattle & King County is leading through a trauma-informed lens. This means that the strategies and actions in the Road Map will respond to the impacts of trauma and adversity in the lives of youth involved in the juvenile legal system and those who have been harmed when crimes occur. Building protective factors, resilience, and making other supports available help to mitigate the impacts of trauma.

View examples of the public health approach➜

Restorative Justice

A key component of Zero Youth Detention is accountability for harmful behavior that happens swiftly and in a restorative way. The concept of restorative justice brings together those harmed by criminal behavior, those who cause the harm, and the larger involved community to discuss how they have been affected and what should be done to repair the harm. When done most effectively, restorative justice is a community-based approach to accountability, safety, and healing.

Guiding Principles

The following guiding principles served to inform the development of the objectives, strategies, and action items contained in the Road Map to Zero Youth Detention.

  1. Make racially just and equitable decisions that relate to and/or address the root causes of racial inequity in the juvenile legal system. Identify and understand how systems of power, obstacles, privilege, and racial injustice negatively impact opportunities and abilities to make fair decisions. This principle encourages the removal or revision of policies and practices that perpetuate structural racism, inequities, different forms of discrimination based on power, privilege, and prevent impacted youth and their families from accessing necessary services.
  2. Honor and celebrate the cultural identities of most impacted youth and families. King County is committed to promoting and investing in culturally reflective and responsive supports that build on the strengths and experiences of youth, families, and community members. The greater purpose is to increase positive cultural identity, self-worth, and leadership skills.
  3. Prioritize voices and needs of youth and families. Impacted communities have meaningful access to inclusive decision making processes as early as possible.
    1. Partner with the most impacted youth and families on design and implementation to inform the County’s programming, service delivery, budgeting, and provide equitable opportunities to advocate on their own behalf and influence decisions that impact their lives.
    2. Facilitate relationships and partnerships between the County and community members that will help further develop school-to-life success pathways.
  4. Support those who provide services. Recognizing that King County employees and community partners drive services for youth and families, this principle calls for cultivating opportunities to further their wellbeing which may include trainings, technical assistance, and consultation, and equitable wages/benefits.
  5. Be accountable and transparent to communities and policymakers. Consistently reporting on data and outcomes promotes accountability and trust, ensuring plans, policies, and services incorporate values that equitably addresses the needs of youth and families most affected.

Further resources:

Cover image: Spirit of Our Youth, by Marvin Oliver (Cast bronze, 1996)