Work begins for King County’s Juvenile Justice Equity group

King_County_Building_Equity_Infographic_iconRainier Beach-based youth advocate Dominique Davis didn’t sugar-coat his feelings at King County’s first Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee meeting last month.

“I’ve been to so many meetings, after meeting, after meeting with so many government officials … I’m tired of meetings,” said Davis, who’s spent years leading efforts to steer youth away from detention and gang violence. “But I’m praying and hoping something comes out of this meeting—that something can change out of this.”

Listening to Davis were the formerly detained youth, other community organizers and institutional leaders who have agreed to serve on the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee. Their charge: Recommend actions that King County communities, school districts, police departments, courts and governments can take to reduce the use of youth detention as well as the racial disparities within it.

Although only 10 percent of the County’s youth population is black, black youth make up almost half of admissions to juvenile detention. About three-quarters of the average daily juvenile detention population are youth of color.

Following the speech Davis gave to the group, King County’s Justice Improvement Manager David Chapman stepped up to the circle of committee members.

“I think everyone in this room is tired of talk,” Chapman said. “We have a big problem and we’re part of that if we don’t own our part in that problem.”

Executive Dow Constantine said at the meeting that he, along with Superior Court’s support, is ready to push King County be the first urban region in the United States to simultaneously reduce its youth detention population and the racial disparities within it.

“We’re turning to a transformative and restorative model of criminal justice,” Constantine said. “Within this new paradigm, we’re making three core commitments:

  1. We commit to understanding and ending racial disparity in the juvenile justice system.
  2. We commit to preventing homelessness and to treating mental illness and addiction rather than criminalizing those afflictions.
  3. We commit to partnering with schools, police agencies, and with anyone else who is willing to partner to ensure there is no school-to-prison pipeline.”

As the group’s lead facilitator, Elmer Dixon, encouraged more members around the room speak up about what they would like to see this group accomplish, many reiterated that they would like to see statistics and timelines of actions that have already been attempted to reduce youth detention. Several actions have already helped decrease the County’s youth detention population by more than 60 percent over the last decade, but they have not benefited youth of color as much as white youth.

Before the group’s next monthly meeting, members will be receiving more detailed statistics of who is in youth detention. At the next meeting, they will begin identifying points in the school-to-prison pipeline in need more focused action.

Updates and the information distributed to the committee will be posted on this blog as their work moves forward.

September documents: Racial Disproportionality in King County Juvenile Detention