County needs new juvenile facility

By Thunderworld Staff



Nobody likes seeing kids get locked up, especially when the United States has the highest percentage of citizens behind bars in the world, but sometimes it needs to be done.

King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove has been working to make sure that a new juvenile detention facility is built in order to replace one that is used now, which Upthegrove describes as "too old and run down."

To compound the issue, the current facility also has no rooms for inmates to meet with loved ones or an attorney.

Some people have come out against the new facility, but the facility itself is only as good or bad as the judicial system allows it to be. For instance, the detention facility in question has reduced its average population.

The trend of a shrinking average daily population is shown on "scorecards" where the average daily population is calculated once per month, information that is readily available on Kingcounty.gov.

Even with the downward trend, there are people who should be behind bars as a matter of safety. And being a dangerous criminal is not dictated by one's age.

This means that we need a facility to house those that are too dangerous to be in the general public, but in all practicality, it comes down to is how the facility is used.

If kids are being sent here for petty crimes such as skipping out on bus fare, that would be a cause for concern. However, Upthegrove has been working to keep kids out of detention facilities.

He has had a part in changing laws to give children more rights such as changing the level of infraction for skipping bus fare from criminal to civil, as well as changing a law giving minors access to a lawyer before being questioned by police.

To add to this, King County Executive Dow Constantine is looking for ways to restructure youth detention as a public health issue rather than a jailing issue.

In the best case, this new approach will make recovery a higher priority than punishment. In the worst case, children will have an updated facility in the future.

While the latter of these scenarios is no consolation for a failure of the former, the new facility is a concrete plan to raise potential inmates' quality of life.

At the end of the day, even if youth detention is not restructured around a public health emphasis, steps are being made in the right direction away from institutionalizing children.

The ideal number of incarcerated children is obviously zero, but there is no magic wand to instantly fix complicated social issues such as these.

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