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.