This is a letter Budget for Justice sent to the city of Seattle. It is reprinted with permission.
For years, Budget for Justice (BfJ) organizations have been doing the restorative and transformative justice work our communities need. Despite repeated acknowledgement and talk, the City of Seattle has, also for years, allowed this work to remain unfunded or underfunded. We have been doing the work longer than the recommendations of many city work groups have existed. It is time for the City of Seattle to fund our work and to stop funding the harmful systems that make our work necessary. The criminal justice system causes disproportionate and irreparable harm.
Independent research findings have illustrated the harm from these systems by cataloguing the shattered lives and families time and again. Many workgroups have already put forward findings and recommendations that have not been acted upon in any significant way.
Designating public funds in 2019 to compile these findings and recommendations and failing to provide the basic level of funding that would allow Budget for Justice organizations to sustain existing work will not create system change. It is not acceptable.
If Council moves forward with efforts to integrate the assessments already undertaken into an action plan that can expand upon and further the work of BfJ organizations and other stakeholders, we support it. If Council chooses to take this step it is imperative that Council provide clear guidance, expected outcomes, and directives to ensure community stakeholder participation has the same weight as the voices of the system in developing accountability measures.
Marginalizing the voices of impacted people to uplift the views of the system as expressed by employees of that system (judges and probation employees) and calling that political will is not system change. It is the maintenance of harmful practices by allowing these entities to use their privilege and power to make unsubstantiated claims of their efficacy. Does Seattle City Council really think a system operating in this manner will agree to dismantle itself?
This effort at integration cannot and should not be at the expense of funding for community solutions, like those of BfJ. The work of BfJ organizations cannot wait until 2020. Our communities cannot wait until 2020. BfJ organizations live and work with impacted communities and are already using all available resources to respond to their needs. The recommendations of the re-entry council and the numerous other convenings are reflected in the work of our organizations. Our strategies are effective, evidence-based, successful alternatives to a system that perpetuates and compounds harm.
The funding proposal put forward by BfJ provided an avenue to fund BfJ work by divesting from the use of probation. Probation is a punitive sanction, it is not effective, both the city and county prosecutor signed onto a national statement Fair and Just Prosecution recognizing the need to shift away from it. There is agreement by everyone that the work being done by BfJ members is necessary and must be brought to scale in order to increase public safety.
If the City of Seattle chooses not to allocate funds in 2019 to make ongoing, real and progressive policy and system change — change the Council should have committed to when it passed the Zero Youth Detention resolution over 3 years ago — these already underfunded organizations will have to continue their volunteer service to the city another year, we will also be mobilizing our constituents in 2019 in an organized and coordinated way to bring about change. We were successful with I-940 and we are willing to bring that momentum directly to the city of Seattle and we will achieve change. We have tried to work with you, in your way. We are not afraid to move against you. If left unfunded we will have nothing to lose.
Budget for Justice Coalition
Creative Justice, Community Passageways, Not This Time, Rainier Beach Action Coalition, Washington Defender Association, Public Defender Association, Got Green
Photo of Andre Taylor by Susan Fried