No New Jails: Consider Alternatives to Incarcerating Children

King County Council members in Washington state are charging ahead with plans to build a new juvenile detention center to be known as the Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC). The county’s existing youth facility in Seattle has 50 beds – and is not even filled to capacity. The new jail triples the number of beds to 150, and will encourage more jailing of young people, opponents argue.

The juvenile detention center will cost taxpayers $210 million to build and is expected to be finished in 2018. Opponents say the larger juvenile jail will have many disastrous effects on the community.

Incarcerating young people is extremely harmful to their physical and mental health, and reduces their access to education. Studies suggest the impacts could negatively affect the rest of their lives. Being incarcerated as a youth is correlated with lower earning potential in the future, an increase in depression and other psychological ailments, and an increased likelihood of unlawful behavior.  More than 70 percent of young people in detention centers are there for non-violent crimes.

The majority of youth detainment is often unnecessary, and in King County’s juvenile punishment system, is exceptionally racially skewed. Black youth make up just 6 percent of the Seattle-area’s population,  but accounts for 21 percent of the juvenile jail population. Asian and Latino youth are also disproportionately represented in the facility.

Many fear that a jail with more beds will result in increased targeting of ethnic minority youths to fill that space. Furthermore, building this prison will do nothing to alleviate conditions of poverty and unemployment that lead to crime.

The $210 million in taxpayer money would be better spent funding community outreach programs focusing on prevention and intervention to keep troubled youth out of jail. The money could be used to increase availability of community youth programs, community sponsored events, sports programs, and educational opportunities. Mentoring, tutoring, art and employment programs could be used to promote success among children and young adults.

Such programs greatly diminish the prevalence of youth incarceration. King County legislators should be focusing on creating and funding more beneficial programs, instead of funding a project that simply warehouses our youth.

Breaking up families by isolating family members, especially children, is not good for anyone.

The Alliance for a Just Society joined with local community groups this month in front of the King County Courthouse and County Council members’ offices to protest the project. To learn more about the event see the Seattle Weekly articleProtestors Continue Fight Against New Youth Detention Facility.

Take a stand against this new jail by calling King County Council members to voice your objection.