'Stop locking up kids:' Protesters block construction traffic to new King Co. youth jail
SEATTLE - For more than seven hours Monday protesters opposed to King County’s new juvenile courthouse and jail chained themselves together outside the construction site and blocked the heavy equipment from coming and going.
They yelled, chanted and held up signs. It marked the second time in weeks that protesters have blocked traffic in an effort to stop the nearly $200 million facility from being built. The protest is in its sixth year.
“We want to stop this jail from being built today,” said one protester named “Shannon” who was chained to other members of the No New Jail Coalition. “We want no new jail being built here. We want to stop locking up kids.”
Protesters unchained themselves just after 3 p.m. They then sang, chanted and listened to a number of speakers. A source tells KOMO the demonstration might return to the jail Tuesday.
Protesters on Monday accused King County Executive Dow Constantine of being racist.
Constantine, in a statement released by his office, said:
“We continue to invite all those interested in youth welfare and juvenile justice to join a full dialogue with King County and our community partners as we do the difficult work to further reduce the number of youth in detention.”
Constantine, in the statement, called the current jail “decrepit and disrespectful.”
The Executive said he has agreed to debate the necessity for a new youth jail on the Seattle Channel. Nikkita Oliver, a former candidate for Seattle Mayor and an outspoken opponent to the new jail, said on Twitter Monday that she had been asked to participate in the debate.
On Twitter Oliver said:
“We don’t need a new $233 million building. We need a $233 million investment in youth.”
King County says the jail, which is expected to open in the fall of 2019, will offer courtrooms, community space, places for families to meet and a chance for victims to engage with offenders for restorative justice. The new building will even have a yoga room.
But to protesters, who blocked three entrances Monday, no child, no matter the crime, should be incarcerated.
Judges, prosecutors, county and city politicians said they have tried to work with opponents. But there’s no wiggle room – protesters want kids, and adults, to stop being incarcerated.
“All that locking folks up in jail does, especially youth, is to ensure they will stay in jail and be involved in the criminal legal system,” “Shannon” said, declining to give her last name.
Earlier this month KOMO went inside the current youth jail- where it’s cold, the ceiling leaks and much of the water throughout the building is brown and undrinkable.
The county is required, by the state, to maintain a juvenile jail, said King County Superior Court Judge J. Wesley Saint Clair.
Saint Clair, who is the chief juvenile judge, said he dreams of the day no more children are incarcerated. But he says it will take time. He said they need to work with children and families to get to them help before crimes are committed.
“What do I say to the parents of a victim who has suffered a grievous injury by someone who is participating in a drive-by shooting?”
When asked about holding children arrested for murder, rape and other violent felonies in jail Shannon said there are “a ton of other community options to do other than locking kids up in jail.”
In recent years the number of children in jail has plummeted, according to King County. While the current youth jail has beds for 200 there were only 48 incarcerated there on Monday. The county attributes this drop to alternatives to incarceration.
There’s counseling, face-to-face meetings with victims, art-based restorative justice programs, even sessions for children and their families, in the current Central Area jail. In the new facility there will be yoga, gardening and theater– all as jail alternatives.