Lower youth jail population

By Cinthia Velez-Regalado - Staff Reporter

King County Councilman Dave Upthegrove says he is for helping reduce the number of youth going into jail, but is also for public safety. 

"We are leading the nation in reducing the number of kids in jail," said Upthegrove.

The typical average was 200 and has gone down to 30-50 a day.

Half of the detainees are African American, and two thirds are people of color, said Upthegrove.

"Something is wrong with that. It that does not match our population," said Upthgrove.

"I'm for reducing the number of detainees, reducing racial disparity, and protecting public safety," he said.

One of the things the council has done is decriminalizing not having bus fare. 

Previously, if a person was caught on a Metro bus without having bought a ticket, they could be sent to jail.  Similar infractions merely resulted in tickets.  

The bus-fare crime disproportionately affected young people of color. 

Now people only get a ticket if they didn't pay their bus fare, he said.

Another thing they have done is changed the court people could appeal at.  Juveniles who wanted to appeal something like a bus fare citation had to travel to Shoreline District Court north of Seattle. 

Upthegrove said he attempted to plot a bus trip from his house in Des Moines to the court.  The Metro search engine kicked it back because it would take more than four hours to complete the trip by bus. 

Now people can go to different courts that are closer to their homes.

Another thing that has changed is people under the age of 18 who are in county detention have the right to an attorney before the police start questioning them.

Previously, police officers would pull detained juveniles out of jail for questioning.  Without the advice of an attorney, they might be pressured or tricked into admitting to a crime they didn't commit. 

Now they have the right to an attorney before questioning. 

 "People of color are less likely to have an attorney," he said. "People of color are more likely to be low-income."

People from wealthier families are more able to afford attorneys and offer get better deals from police and prosecurtors, Upthegrove said. 

"My goal is to reduce the number of youth we lock up, reduce racial disparity, protect public safety," said Upthegrove. "I have the goal of zero youth detention." 

All of the studies show that locking young people up is not good for them, because it's like a downward spiral, said Upthegrove.

Nonetheless, he said, the county needs a new youth detention center, which some people in the community have opposed. 

"There will be times when … someone presents a threat to public safety," he said, and needs to be incarcerated.

The old detention center is in very poor shape.

"The youth jail is in horrible condition," he said. "We made a decision to rebuild the jail." 

Voters have approved the funding, said Upthegrove. 

Some people don't want the jail, he said. 

"They're protesting at the mayor of Seattle's house," Upthegrove said.  "The mayor of Seattle has nothing to do with this." 

"I think people like it because it's a bumper sticker solution – 'No youth jail,'" he said.

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