by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
When we talk about development around Capitol Hill and, increasingly, on the near side of the Central District, we’re usually talking about mixed-use retail, housing, community centers and mass transit lines. One of the biggest and most expensive development projects on the horizon, though, is of a different sort. The proposed Children and Family Justice Center, a replacement for the current King County Juvenile Detention Center at 1211 East Alder Street, will soon break ground, for completion estimated in 2018.
Voters approved a levy in 2012 that will provide $210 million to the CFJC project through a new property tax. The ballot initiative for the levy, King County Proposition 1, won by over 11,000 votes in August of 2012. Its language and specific direction resulted from studies, facility assessments and community outreach as far back as 2008. Though the proposition won by over six points at the polls, it saw protests both from property owners who didn’t want to pay another tax, as well as anti-prison activists.
The current 12th and Alder campus includes the actual Juvenile Detention Center, the King County Juvenile Court and Juvenile Court Services building, and offices for the juvenile division of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Department of Judicial Administration. The new development will be on the same site and replace the three buildings housing these facilities. It will have 10 courtrooms and 11 living halls where youth detainees will stay.
Overall, the new facility will have space for fewer inmates, though this is reflective of a major reduction in the number of inmates at any given time at the Juvenile Detention Facility. Both the average population and the average length of stay for juvenile offenders in King County have been dropping precipitously for years. Even between 2012 and 2013, the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention reports that the average number of inmates in the secure facility itself fell from 68 to 57, and the duration of incarceration went from 10 to eight days. This is in stark contrast to the facility’s most crowded period in the late 1990s when over 200 inmates resided at the Juvenile Detention Center in a space originally designed for a maximum of 160.
The reasons for the overall reduction in population and length of stay vary. Among them are the numerous alternative programs that King County established during that peak incarceration period in the 1990s. Today, a significant portion (approximately 30 percent) of the youths in the system don’t stay in the secure, 24-hour detainment facility at the Juvenile Detention campus; instead, they serve their time in home monitoring programs, work release, weekend reporting to corrections officers and group care environments. Even so, the number of youths in those programs have also been falling in recent years, thanks to dropping juvenile crime trends and changes to detainment policy that decrease the number of detained juveniles found guilty of misdemeanor crimes.
The CFJC is still within its planning stages. A design-build review process is underway, and the development contract will be awarded in April of 2014. There is no official start date at this time for construction.
Because the new facility has yet to break ground, some members of the community maintain their fight against juvenile detention as a concept in King County. One group, the Puget Sound Anarchists, stage a noise demonstration at the 12th and Alder campus every New Year’s Eve to protest prisons, citizen detainment and especially juvenile detention. The PSA is not the only group to perform such demonstrations. In February of 2012, members of the Occupy Seattle movement held a similar rally at the current juvenile facility on the same day as other anti-prison demonstrations in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Boston and other cities around the country.
A noise demonstration involves protesters using a variety of implements, such as pots and pans, portable sound systems, musical instruments, and anything else that can make a noise loud enough for inmates to hear them through the walls of the facility. The purpose, according to organizers at previous noise demonstrations, is to communicate with inmates and show community support for their release.
The New Year’s Eve noise demonstration at the King County Juvenile Corrections campus is set to begin at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, December 31, at the facility entrance on 12th Avenue.