King County voters approved a bill in 2012 to put approximately $210 million toward a new youth jail and court buildings on the current nine-acre site of the King County Youth Services Center at 12th and Alder in Seattle’s Central District.
The remodel, which is already underway, will replace dilapidated and inadequate buildings, but members of a movement called No New Youth Jail say the facility will also increase the number of beds for detention in a county where youth crime and incarceration are decreasing.
At a gathering March 20 at Bethany United Methodist Church, activists said the new jail is the perpetuation of institutionalized racism.
“We are all here because we know something is deeply, deeply wrong,” said Martin Friedman of The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.
More than a 100 people turned out for the gathering. Members say No New Youth Jail is a challenge to the prison-industrial complex, a web of influence that social justice activists say is created by the interaction of America’s inmate population and the businesses that profit from it.
Mental health professionals, policy- makers from Olympia and students were among those speaking out at a sharing session led by Seattle University professors Gary Perry and Rose Ernst. Some referenced the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a discriminatory practice that pushes students out of school and into jail.
“Our children are not broken, our systems are broken. We need to stop focusing on fixing our children and fix the systems,” said Dustin Washington of the American Friends Service Committee.
Multnomah County Youth Jail Reception Center was offered as an alternative model for King County. The Reception Center receives youth between 11 and 17 who have been arrested for certain offenses and reunites them with family or a caregiver, subsequently providing services and referrals to those deemed eligible. For youth who move through the Reception Center, incarceration is not part of the process.
“We don’t need to build a movement; this is a movement,” said Friedman. “This is the new slavery, and we are the new abolitionists.”
No New Youth Jail is a collaboration of organizations like End Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) and European Dissent. To encourage involvement from the artistic community, No New Youth Jail will hold “A Night of Expression” from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 27 at Southside Commons.
The Children and Family Justice Center is slated for completion in 2018.