by Kelsey Hamlin (Updated 9/26/17 at 4:58 pm)
The Court of Appeals handed prison abolitionist groups Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) and #NoNewYouthJail (NNYJ) a substantial and calculated victory Tuesday morning that could potentially close the money spigot for the youth dentition center they’ve been opposing.
The EPIC and NNYJ movement’s push against the construction of King County’s Children and Family Justice Center came to Seattle’s political forefront through five years of protests, demonstrations, teach-ins and community outreach. The $210 million “youth jail,” as deemed by critics, broke ground this summer on the corner of 12th and Alder in the Squire Park neighborhood.
A large part of the movement’s argument revolved around what they perceived as voter deceit by King County’s ballot language on the August 2014 levy that voters approved. The Proposition called the building a “Children and Family Justice Center” when it would house a 92,000 square foot juvenile detention center, and older facility. It would also contain 10 court rooms and 10,200 square feet of youth program space.
In a statement sent after Tuesday’s ruling, King County maintained that the language around the ballot was neither “vague nor unclear,” and cited the appellate courts concurrence with that assessment.
EPIC sued King County in April 2016 after the county over-collected property taxes under Proposition 1 which was enacted in 2014.
The group, assisted by attorney Knoll Lowney, received a ruling from The Washington State Court of Appeals Division II today.
It covered 1) the language clarity on taxes that would construct the juvenile detention center and 2) the calculations from an increased base tax in the first year that would be used to calculate future increases.
Before today’s ruling, the Superior Court didn’t find EPIC’s claims timely. Judges also stated the ballot title language was sufficient in regards to the initial tax amount basis and subsequent increases, and regarding the clarity of its purposes.
But the Court of Appeals disagreed. They found King County’s calculation of subsequent levy amounts timely and held that the Proposition 1 ballot title didn’t expressly authorize the County to levy property taxes from the increased base tax in the first year.
So the Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgement. They did concur with the Superior Court on one thing, though: it was clear funds would be used for King County’s Children and Family Justice Center.
This ruling, in essence, denies the complex some funding for its construction. The exact amount remains unclear, however Lowney estimates that it would deny King County about $150 million dollar towards construction of the facility.
“This is a critical decision[…] it basically means the County would have to finance construction of the facility out of the general fund, which would be extremely bad for taxpayers,” Lowney told the South Seattle Emerald.
The county has already announced that it will appeal the decision, saying that the Appeals Court issued “a technical ruling” regarding the method for levy collection. But Lowney says he anticipates the appeal’s failure.
Others who had been rallying against the jail for nearly a half decade welcomed Tuesday’s news.
“I’m so excited that after five years this crazy loop hole could lead to the jail not being built,” said Senait Brown, a lead organizer for EPIC.
Brown said Tuesday’s ruling came at a fortuitous time, as King County served EPIC and several other local social justice organizations with a lawsuit on Monday. The suit attempted to establish that the county’s Master Land Use permit for constructing the complex could not be challenged in court.
“The county has been so stubborn and hardheaded. If they put as much effort into homelessness, and education as they did attempting to build a jail for children our problems would be solved by now. This is the epitome of systemic racism,” she said.
Project contractor Howard S. Wright has spent the last three months prepping designated land for the complex’s construction.
(Marcus Harrison Green contributed reporting to this article)
Kelsey Hamlin is a freelance reporter with various Seattle publications. She graduated with interdisciplinary Honors, a B.A. in journalism and a minor in Law, Societies & Justice from the University of Washington. Hamlin served as President and VP for the UW’s Society of Professional Journalists over the past two years. Find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin or see more of her articles on her website.
Featured image by DJ Martinez