King County, Washington, which includes Seattle, has announced plans to close the city's downtown jail and phase out youth detention by 2025 after pressure from activist groups.
John Diaz, the director of the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, announced in a memo proposals not only to eliminate youth detention but to also shut down the King County Correctional Facility (KCCF).
The move comes after several activist groups argued that juvenile detention is outdated and mostly harms people of color.
One of the most vocal groups, No New Youth Jail Seattle, strongly opposed the creation of the new Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC), which opened earlier this year in February, as an effort by the city to move toward a modern approach of youth detention.
Diaz referred to the KCCF as "obsolete," since it does not properly serve "security, healthcare, or efficiency needs."
"To decrease our reliance on secure detention, the Executive intends to support programs for prevention, diversion, rehabilitation, and harm reduction," wrote Diaz. "As the County seeks out new models for public safety, your department leaders will continue to support orderly and secure operations."
SCOOP: King County Executive Dow Constantine plans to close the county jail in downtown Seattle—and build no new facilities to replace it.— Christopher F. Rufo (@realchrisrufo) July 21, 2020
I've obtained a leaked email outlining the plan. ?? pic.twitter.com/2AxztsTIHu
The jail has been operating since 1986 and currently employs over 350 correctional staff.
It is unclear whether a new jail would be constructed, but there is another smaller correctional facility located in Kent, the King County Maleng Regional Justice Center. This is reportedly where some of the Seattle inmates would go.
As for juvenile detention, King County is hoping to convert the remaining units at the new for more space for community programs "no later than 2025."
The new youth detention center was designed to help reform the youth imprisonment, as part of an effort toward achieving the goal of “zero youth detention,” a movement seeking to eliminate the use of secure detention. The facility houses a 156-bed juvenile jail, resource center, free clothing shop, and daycare center. King County spent nearly $242 million to build the CFJC.
The coronavirus pandemic had already forced officials to release over half of the youth held in detention out of concern that the virus could spread rapidly in confined spaces like prisons, jails, and detention centers. Only 21 minors remain at the CFJC.
King County Executive Dow Constantine shared the news on Twitter in a series of statements, failing to comment on the proposed plans for the adult jail, but focusing on how he is committed to saving wayward youth.
"Phasing out centralized youth detention is no longer a goal in the far distance," he wrote in one tweet. "We have made extraordinary progress and we have evolved to believe that even more can be done."
Phasing out centralized youth detention is no longer a goal in the far distance. We have made extraordinary progress and we have evolved to believe that even more can be done.— Dow Constantine (@kcexec) July 21, 2020
King County has also proposed giving the power of the County Council to determine the duties of the sheriff's office, meaning it could either decrease or increase the duties given to the office, or combine tasks with another department.
On Wednesday night, Discovery Institute Research Fellow Christopher Rufo spoke on Fox News with Tucker Carlson about these new proposals, along with the city council’s plan to cut the police department’s budget by 50 percent.
Seattle and King County are moving to cut the police department in half and permanently close the region's largest jail.— Christopher F. Rufo (@realchrisrufo) July 23, 2020
Last night, I sat down with Tucker Carlson to explain this radical escalation in "abolishing the police"—and the chaos it will leave its in wake. pic.twitter.com/vQkceGjDqu
"Unfortunately what happens when you create a void of lawlessness that will be filled very soon with violence, with disorder with mayhem," said Rufo.
He also said he had inside word that the Seattle Municipal Court system is next.
King County will not move forward with the proposed jail shutdown until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. However, the move to eradicate youth detention has already begun.