There’s no arguing that keeping children out of jail would be a great accomplishment for our criminal justice system, and we’ve seen the King County Prosecutor’s Office, in just this past year alone, creating programs aimed at doing just that.
These are programs that take a more therapeutic approach to addressing behavioral problems, also looking for the underlying causes of a youth’s inappropriate actions.
We expect these programs to grow and become better funded as more data comes in that supports these methods, which often involve a short time spent in the county’s youth detention center as a result of an initial arrest, but offer offenders a chance to avoid charges and a mark on their record.
No one wants to see the county’s youth in cells, but there are certainly crimes that warrant such actions, particularly more violent violations of the law. Again, we recently reported on a new juvenile program that touted as its first success story a teen who was facing a first-degree robbery charge, so we believe the county really is trying to keep more youth out of jail whenever possible.
It was certainly poor timing that the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections would issue a permitting decision for the county’s new Children and Family Justice Center just before Christmas, seemingly when no one was supposed to be paying attention. Whether intentional or not, it made a poor impression on those opposed to jailing our youth, and particularly at the current rate of racial disparity we’ve seen.
At this point, the CFJC seems inevitable. Our hope is that the powers that be make certain they do a far better job of addressing the opposition’s concerns, which we haven’t seen yet. By that we mean stepping up, calling meetings and explaining just how this new facility will better serve the county’s troubled youth, rather than just being a place for them to serve a sentence.