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King County plans new approach to juvenile justice system

Executive Dow Constantine on Thursday said that he has asked Public Health Seattle & King County to study how the Department of Juvenile Detention could be restructured. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - King County is considering a new approach to juvenile detention - one that is not necessarily overseen by county jailers.

Executive Dow Constantine on Thursday said that he has asked Public Health Seattle & King County to study how the Department of Juvenile Detention could be restructured.

“This is an effort that is really taking on generations of expectations, decades of practices and an entire history of inequities in our society,” Constantine said during a news conference Thursday.

Flanked by Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess, Metropolitan King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, officials from the county prosecutor’s office and public health as well as leaders from non-profit agencies, Constantine announced his push for change within the juvenile detention system.

He said their thought should be, “how do we get this kid back on track while keeping the community safe?”

Burgess, a former police officer himself, said the days of incarcerating youth for every crime should be in the past.

“Youth incarceration generally fails to reduce recidivism,” Burgess said. “In fact, in many cases the likelihood is that recidivism is increased.”

How, exactly, Public Health- Seattle & King County could oversee juvenile detention remains unclear. The agency oversees a wide array of departments, including the medical examiner, food handlers permits and disease outbreaks.

“Public health is all about prevention and we see that in our work when we successfully prevent outbreaks and we reduce youth tobacco use,” said Patty Hayes, director of Public Health Seattle & King County.

Constantine said he wants to see a report on how the restructuring could happen early next year.

Constantine’s announcement comes just weeks after the county was sued by the families of several boys who were held in solitary confinement at the Regional Justice Center, the adult jail in Kent. The boys, all being prosecuted for felonies in adult court, are being moved back to the King County Youth Detention facility in Seattle. The Executive has since said that no children will be held in solitary at an adult jail.

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