This week brings the official launch of Initiative 100 by Citizens for Efficiency and Fairness in Public Safety. Real Change started putting this effort together back last summer, when it became clear that a new municipal jail was coming fast and that homeless people were high on the guest list. Despite declining rates of incarceration in both King County and Seattle in recent years, the Mayor's office is betting $220 million up front and another $20 million annually on a reversal of the trend.
Angry neighborhood groups haven't slowed this train down one bit. Letters, phone calls, and testimony at hearings have all fallen on deaf ears. The new jail, the city says, is a done deal. No one wants it, they say, but they have no choice. It's inevitable.
Wrong. There are always choices to be made. The increased commitment of public resources to incarceration is not inevitable. There is no law of physics that says Black people in King County must be jailed at nearly 10 times their representation per capita. The logic of closing schools to open jails is not inescapable. As the economy declines, there is no iron law that says punishing the poor is a greater public good than meeting human needs and rebuilding lives.
What we do know is that if the jail is built, it will fill. That's what happens.
Two hundred and twenty million dollars would buy a lot of job training, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, and affordable housing. The $20 million annually to operate could boost city spending on homelessness and housing by half. We have choices to make. Attend the I-100 launch on Feb. 19, 7:30 a.m., at Town Hall, or visit nonewjail.org for more information.