Seattle, WA – The King County executive announced on Tuesday that plans are underway to dismantle the county’s current justice system, do away with the Seattle jail and juvenile detention facility, and replace incarceration with social welfare programs.
A memo released on July 21 said King County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposed plan replaces “secure detention” facilities with programs intended to promote “prevention, diversion, rehabilitation, and harm reduction,” KCPQ reported.
“The Executive’s proposal calls for a phased closing of the Seattle jail” after the coronavirus pandemic is “brought under control,” according to a copy of the memo posted to Facebook by the station.
The memo called the Seattle jail’s 1986 design “obsolete,” expensive to run, and said it didn’t actually serve “security, healthcare, or efficiency needs.”
The county executive has also planned to shut down the Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center’s secured detention facility entirely and repurpose the juvenile containment space for community programs, according to the memo.
We can confirm letter is authentic. If King County actually closes downtown Seattle jail without doing anything meaningful to address repeat offender problem, then they’ll just be shipping the problem to Kent and playing catch and release from jail there. https://t.co/wB2agxbQGE
— Brandi Kruse (@BrandiKruse) July 21, 2020
The memo said the county had already reduced the juvenile population in the facility to half of what it was before the pandemic, and the goal was to get rid of the detention aspect of the building entirely by 2025.
Today I commit King County to converting the remaining youth detention units at the CFJC to other uses as quickly as possible, and no later than 2025.
— Dow Constantine (@kcexec) July 21, 2020
“Phasing out centralized youth detention is no longer a goal in the far distance,” Constantine tweeted on Wednesday evening. “We have made extraordinary progress and we have evolved to believe that even more can be done.”
Jail is where lower-level criminals sentenced to less than a year of incarceration serve their time, KCPQ reported.
However, dangerous felons awaiting trial for murder, rape, and other violent crimes are also held at the county jail while they are awaiting trial.
Constantine’s office has not responded to questions about what will happen to the violent offenders held in the King County facility if the jail is closed down, KCPQ reported.
Dennis Behrend Jr., a bail bond specialist with Lacey O’Malley Bail Bond Agency, said he thought the plan sounded crazy.
“I sit in the courtroom almost every day listening to cases and we don’t bond out everyone. There are some seriously dangerous people in custody,” Behrend said.
He said he doesn’t oppose the county looking for alternative solutions to jail for the mentally ill or the chemically dependent, but questioned what they planned to do with all the violent offenders.
“There were three people booked Friday on homicide charges,” Behrend told KCPQ. “Are we gonna let those people out?…I have no idea what they plan to do for those people and justice needs to be held for people who’ve done wrong.”
The county executive’s office has promised more details about the plan to convert Seattle’s justice system in the next budget proposal.
Black Lives Matter Seattle released a statement that supported Constantine’s proposed plan, KCPQ reported.
“We want a system that supports youth and helps them lead healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives. Their lives matter. Ending youth incarceration is the right thing to do for our children, their families, and all of us,” the organization said in part.