Deputy Executive Rhonda Berry will be leading King County’s efforts to achieve zero youth detention while a new $210 million Children and Family Justice Center remains on track to open in 2020.

“It was something that the executive felt very strongly about,” Berry said. “Back in March he made a commitment to getting the county on a roadmap to zero detention.”

The Road Map to Community Safety and Effective Alternatives to Detention was announced by King County Executive Dow Constantine during his State of the County Address, and follows the 2015 formation of a Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee to address racial disparity in the juvenile justice system.

“To navigate the rest of this journey, to reach our goal, we need a map,” the executive said. “A plan. Saying ‘we’ll try to do even better” is not a plan. Shouting “zero youth detention” is not a plan either. I will invite this council, community members and criminal justice leaders to join me in creating that Road Map to Community Safety and Effective Alternatives to Detention.”

Constantine is up for re-election this year, and Berry said the executive wanted to get ahead of goals he’d set for the next term.

“He knew he needed to get moving on this body of work,” Berry said, “and I felt like I had the skill set and the interest — interest on a number of different levels —— to do it.”

Berry has been overseeing nine executive branch departments, as well as the county’s equity and social justice initiatives, and is now taking on the role of zero juvenile detention director.

King County has been working on restorative justice programs over the years to avoid juvenile incarceration and lower recidivism rates.

The Family Intervention and Restorative Services pilot program was started in 2016, and addresses cases where juveniles have assaulted a guardian or sibling, pairing them up with youth care workers.

King County is also seeing benefits from Peacemaking Circles, where juveniles spend time with community members, caseworkers, advocates and officials to examine the impacts of their actions and seek to remedy their behavioral issues.

“It’s hard to measure prevention, it’s hard to measure what didn’t happen, so how do we measure benchmarks or major milestones?” Berry said. “I think it’s still early. I don’t think we have enough data for people who are looking for a lot of data.”

Berry said one of her strengths is being able to bring people to the table to work toward solutions.

She sat down with an internal group comprised of public defenders, prosecutors, public health officials and community service members two weeks ago for a meeting that hasn’t happened since the creation of the juvenile justice operational master plan, she said.

“And that’s something that hasn’t happened in years, so what I’m looking at is bringing people together that have the technical expertise, and at the same time learning about best practices in other communities and what are our strengths here,” Berry said.

Pushing for greater reforms and a zero-detention model are a number of community groups and nonprofits that last year fought to stop construction of the Children and Family Justice Center. They filed an appeal to the county’s master use permit issued in late December, which was dismissed because the Seattle Hearing Examiner had no jurisdiction. The city council approved an amendment in May to fix that oversight made when it approved an ordinance in 2014 that cleared the way for the CFJC.

Opponents point out the new facility, which will replace the outdated Youth Services Center, includes a juvenile detention wing with 112 detention beds, which they claim is more than is necessary. The current Youth Services Center has 212 beds.

The county reports the average daily juvenile detention population has decreased by more than 70 percent since the 1990s, and by 16 percent last year compared to 2015.

Once the courthouse and juvenile detention portions of the CFJC are open, the Youth Services Center will be demolished to make way for a new parking garage.

King County has designed the detention facility in a way that the beds could be decreased in the future and that space repurposed for more restorative justice programming.

Berry said she has not yet dove into issues related to the CFJC project, nor has she set a meeting with project opponents, such as appellant Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC Seattle).

“We will definitely be engaging with EPIC,” Berry said. “I’ve made some introductions with folks and I’ve made a commitment to get together.”

The Best Starts for Kids initiative will play a key role in the county’s work toward zero juvenile detention, Berry said. The initiative seeks to support children in King County from birth through their teen years, using neuroscience research to create approaches that promote healthy childhood development.

Berry said she doesn’t want to address zero juvenile detention simply through the justice system, because children exiting that system will need continuing supports to avoid reoffending.

“We’re talking about young people who are probably in school somewhere, and what can we and school districts learn from each other,” Berry said. “I think we all have a common interest, we all want our communities to be better.”