Juvenile facility combats racism

By Colin Phan - Staff Reporter

A new juvenile detention facility in King County will help fight racial disparity in the criminal justice system, a County Council member said while speaking at Highline last week.

County Councilman Dave Upthegrove said that the current facility is too old and run down, and that there are no rooms for inmates to meet with their families and attorneys.

Many people, including Seattle rap artist Macklemore, have protested building a new detention facility, but Upthegrove insists that there are still some people who need to be incarcerated.

Upthegrove said that he has been working in order to make sure the facility is rebuilt, and that it will be a factor in helping combat racial issues.

"If we don't build this facility, it doesn't help racial disparity," Upthegrove said.

Upthegrove said that juvenile crime inordinately affects people of color.

"Half the kids in there are African Americans. Three fourths are kids of color," He said.

The racial disparity that causes young people of color to end up in the criminal justice system is an issue for Upthegrove.

"We see a statistical correlation between race and income," Upthegrove said. "I really think it's the civil rights issue of our day."

Upthegrove said that the county has been at work to minimize the number of youth in jail. The average population in the existing facility has gone from 200 to 30-35 today, he said.

With the statistical correlation between race and income, Upthegrove said that he helped alter a law to assist juveniles in the court system. "I changed a law so juveniles could get access to an attorney before being questioned by police," Upthegrove said. "White inmates are more likely to be able to afford an attorney on their own."

Upthegrove said he was also able to change another law to help keep people of color out of prison.

"[It] was a criminal infraction to not pay busfare," Upthegrove said. "Violators were overwhelmingly people of color. Now [it's] a civil infraction."

Upthegrove said that construction on the new facility is going to get rolling soon, and that it was long past time as the current building is old and dilapidated.

"Voters approved it on the ballot. The construction will start soon," Upthegrove said. "We're already in a contract. We have to pay our contractors."

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