King County’s juvenile justice system has been under increasing pressure from youth advocacy and community groups to drastically improve the way the system works.
And the pressure is welcome, says King County Juvenile Court Judge Wesley Saint Clair.
The judge described his feelings toward the juvenile-justice reform movement this week in an interview with King County TV, which we’ve selected highlights from below.
“I welcome the community’s agitation on these issues because they give me the courage and the strength to be an agitator as well—an agitator within the system—as opposed to outside the system,” said Judge Saint Clair, who’s been nationally recognized for his leadership on drug-court reform.
Judge Saint Clair also outlined some of the new detention alternatives the County is supporting in collaboration with community partners, including Restorative Mediation and 4Culture’s Creative Justice pilot program.
But the judge stressed that society should not expect the juvenile court system alone to fix youth, and that positive intervention needs to happen much earlier through improved access to education and mental health care.
When asked what’s causing the growth of racial disparities in King County’s juvenile detention population, Judge Saint Clair pointed to a “constellation of reasons.”
We have a mental health system that is not really meeting the needs of youth. We have school systems that disproportionately discharge youth of color … We have families under enormous stress, poverty, institutional racism — all of these things kind of combined to have these outcomes we’re seeing.
As reform efforts move forward, the judge said he’s looking for opportunities to brainstorm and collaborate with communities for more solutions. One of those opportunities is coming up next month when police chiefs, school superintendents, community leaders, youth and parents attend the County’s first Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee meeting.
“Any of us alone, we really have no ability to fix these [problems]. But together, as a community where there’s many minds working toward something, then I think there are some real opportunities for us to make some substantial changes.”