Seattle City Council Committee Passes Radical Resolution to End Youth Detention

by Reagan Jackson

Yesterday the City Council’s Public Safety committee unanimously voted to send resolution 31614 to the full City Council for approval, a measure that will effectively end youth detention in Seattle as of January 2016. The resolution, sponsored by Councilman Mike O’Brien, was a part of a recommendation made in a report by the Office of Civil Rights that implored Seattle to envision a city without youth incarceration. “We have to center this work in the communities that are directly affected,” explained Councilman O’Brien. To that end the resolution was drafted in partnership with members of Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC).  

This decision to go zero detention arrives as King County has already committed to spending $210 million to replace the current Youth Services Center with a new facility called The Child and Family Justice Center. The new facility will reduce the population of youth who are detained. According to a press release from County Executive Dow Constatine’s office, the current plan will reduce the number of available beds from 212 to 112.

A spirited public comment session took place before the vote. All spoke in favor of the resolution imploring the Council to not only pass it, but to do so without any amendments.

“The only way to eradicate this inherent bias is to abolish youth jails. Youth don’t belong in prison, its abusive, traumatic, it makes it more likely for them to end up in adult prisons and to be denied housing and jobs. It isn’t a form of discipline its abuse, ” said BLM activist Aila Barbour.

Annette Clackenstein spoke on behalf of radical activist group, The Raging Grannies. “This particular resolution that we’re talking about today is at the art of everything the Grannies stand for because it’s about our children. And what we care about the most is that we leave a better more peaceful, more just world for our children and grandchildren.”

Clackenstein voiced a common refrain, expressing outrage and incredulity at the staggering statistics both on how much it costs to keep youth detained and how so many of the youth imprisoned are disproportionately youth of color. “ You put those two things together and you have our allegedly progressive city paying a phenomenal sum of 95,000 per child per year to perpetuate the overwhelming institutional racism of our criminal justice system and with the end result of children who are not being helped and who are in fact being damaged by the system,” said Clackenstein.

Barbour spoke to issue of systemic racism in more depth. “Let take the juvi for example,” she said.  “While the number of kids used to be close to 200 a few years ago and that number has dropped to around 50 or 60, the racial disparities have increased so these programs that were implemented to help keep youth out of jail are actually benefiting the white youth and not the black and brown youth.”

Before voting, Michael Moynihan and Ariel Hart representing the community partners who helped draft the resolution were brought to the table to discuss the implications with the councilmembers. The resolution calls for Seattle Public Schools to end the practice of suspension and for the City to become innovators in creating policies to not only abolish the school to prison pipeline but to create alternative systems of community based rehabilitation.  

During the Q&A Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw was met with dissent when she asked: “What do we do with serious violent crimes?”

The hope is to draw on best practices from around the world to create restorative justice, but once again Seattle is at the forefront of a liberal movement without a clear road map.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to do things differently if we’re going to be successful,” said O’Brien, acknowledging the challenged inherent in taking a non-traditional approach to policy making.

“I recognize that this is just a piece of paper with some words on it. I think they’re good words, and yet its only gonna have mean if we take the steps to follow up.”

The full council vote on approving the resolution will take place on Monday, September 21st, at 2pm at Seattle City Hall.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Public Safety committee as the full Seattle City Council.

10 thoughts on “Seattle City Council Committee Passes Radical Resolution to End Youth Detention”

  1. Wow!
    As a juvenile probation counselor this is tough to swallow! Kids who commit crimes do place the community at risk and the justice system is in place in part to protect the community from being victimized! I love the new programs and services juvenile court has implemented in recent years to get to the causes behind kids committing crimes, they are effective. In recent years though I have seen violent crime increase, robberies, shootings, assaults, are on the rise. The kids who commit these violent crimes need to be locked up to protect the community. The community needs to be prioritized along with helping these young offenders
    It is hard to say it any other way but a majority of these violent crimes are being committed by minority youth. (Don’t take my word for it, check FBI stats). As the juvenile court aggressively tries to help get to the bottom of why kids are offending and help change behaviors in these youth the fact remains that these violent crimes do continue! We cannot ignore violent crime by not holding these kids accountable and locking these kids up! Behavior is the key here, not race!
    Adults expect accountability in life, that’s how adult life is when we break the law, or violate rules, and we are doing our kids a disservice by not showing them that accountability is important.
    Again, I love the the services the court is offering our youth and families, they are effective and work. We need a balance, great services and a healthy dose of accountability. These two together will help our kids we work with, not just one or the other alone!

    1. I agree. Accountability and responsibility are absolutes musts if we are to raise kids who can successfully parent their own kids. This merry-go-round of poor parenting equals bad kids equals poor parents equals…its a never ending cycle. I think we may be seeing the tail end of the worst of it tho. With the horror of the 80’s behind us, those kids are now the parents who remember what being a lousy parent looks like and I see them trying to turn it around.
      Lets try getting CPS out of our business when it comes to good decent discipline and let it stand for the cases where neglect is severe and abuse is more easily recognized. America knows what closet abuse and neglect look like now, lets not buy into the fear factoring. If you want kids who have learned manners, respect, responsibility and know that helping out won’t kill them, you’ve got to let parents do their jobs.
      Otherwise? We’re back to letting the courts discipline our kids – or the other inmates.

      1. We as a society have become more violent why would our kids not do the same thing. We have to start somewhere why not here. NOW is the time for our kids. NOW not yesterday not tomorrow black and whites commit crime in the same percentage but Black and Brown kids serve life sentence white kids don’t if you are bad as a white kid you always have whiteness waiting for you when you want to straighten out. The system has to much duplicity. WE need our kids to be given a FAIR chance. # Blacklivesmatter

    2. Yes, this proposal has the ring of political posturing by Mike O’Brian and others. Considering the scope and complexity of the problem, it is an insult to state that the solution is so simple. We live in a society which glorifies violence and makes unrealistic demands of average people, especially those of lower socioeconomic status (including people of color). Addressing these issues are not as politically neat and clean but take true courage and commitment.

  2. The ‘balance’ isn’t well timed meaning the ‘help’ comes as punishment and late. It could come as jobs for their parents and providers, and schools that understood children of the full variety of backgrounds in the community. The teachers had a strike to bring some needed change, but the kids caught in this system can’t strike the system, especially not the prison system, so adults have to get them out of there to give them a different chance. They don’t play with guns because they grew up in happy circumstances and this makes them even happier. The money, the attention, won’t get put on the front end in time for these kids, and punishment of a one-kind-fits-all life in separation from society only puts more scars on their fragile egos. The staff that believes the answer is isolation is not going to help change the system. It is perpetuating it. I hope you will come to see what is wrong with just leaving them there.

  3. 95000 per year per child. Mental illness is real, Mental Health clinics need money. Billionaires give away billions. BIllions to job programs and decent wages would be helpful. Outdoor Youth Connections, Hiking for At Risk Kids, Boys and Girls Clubs,the Mountaineers and many others need support to get kids into positive activities. Foster parents cope with bonding disorders and oppositional defiant disorders while putting their own money into the child’s clothing, schooling.etc. Let’s fund foster programs. Single mothers struggle to even see their kids, while trying to feed and clothe them with three jobs.Corporations could pay a living wage with health benefits. Substance addiction wreaks havoc on children in the family. Let’s fund addiction treatment programs. Prisons with college course programs are in the vast minority. Let’s educate our prisoners and get them into intern job programs as they are released.

    1. You are just to practical and it would work giving folks skills and a job what a GREAT idea.. I know that I have to be responsible for assisting at least one Youth from 5-18 annually. My Grandmother called it one helping one. Can you be a resource for a young person in your church or religious organization, can you mentor a kid at work? A kid in your family. Let this year all set out to help just one kid. Let watch is grow)
      # onehelping1

  4. Well maybe if people stopped using Youth jails as warehouse and put actual services in them. All this will do is send children to group homes which are worst then Juvenile halls. The question has to be asked what makes Juvenile halls, jails? Is it being behind locked doors? Take it from me as a person who worked in a group homes on the night shift this is for the protection of the youth.If Juvenile Halls were ran to rehabilitate and not used for ware houses and for punishment by Judges, Probation officers and parents they could be very effective. They are could teach disciple, which is not the same as punishment,also to teach the needed skills to be effective in the community. To even call them jails is very disrespectful to the people who work in them! These people work countless hours trying to help youth with limited or no resources. At every turn they run into a ego manic ran bureaucracy that tie their hands and eliminate their effectiveness. Mainly of people who never work the youth.

  5. But they forgot the second part of this and that is to ban Seattle youth from committing crime. They will need to meet son that all the youth in Seattle know that they are not allowed to coming crime. LOL. What a piece of shit idea. Does someone on staff remind these idiots to breath. Better yet, if there is such person, eliminate the job and allow them to pass on.