Even as King County’s population has grown, measures taken by the County over the past 20 years have sharply reduced the number of youth in detention. King County’s creation of alternatives to detention and improved court practices helped cut the number of youth in detention by almost 70 percent, bringing it from a high of 205 youth in 2000 to a low of 45 youth in 2014. King County consistently has one of the lowest youth detention rates of any urban county in the United States – today, the second lowest according to the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.
But even as the overall number of youth in detention went down, the proportion of black youth in detention went up. Even though only about 10 percent of King County’s 2 million residents are black, they now make up almost half of the detention population on any given day. Black youth are not benefiting from King County’s work to reduce the detention population as much as others. It’s happening nationwide, and we’re working with local police, schools and cities to understand the causes of this racial disparity.
Racial disparity has no place in our justice system, especially not in a system responsible for the well-being of our youth. In partnership with community organizations, youth and school districts on the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee, King County is focused on becoming the first urban region in the country to see the juvenile detention population and the racial disparities within it shrink at the same time. It’s doing that through investments in:
- Alternatives to Detention
- Racial Equity
- Juvenile Justice Reform
To supplement efforts to keep youth outside of King County’s court system altogether, King County’s newly voter-approved Best Starts for Kids program is intended to help youth from all communities get a healthy start in life through parent support, health care, and other supportive programs through age 24. The initiative will invest almost $400 million in these services over the next six years to help give every child a chance to achieve their full potential. Recommendations from the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee will help inform programming priorities in 2016.