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Dear Neighbor,

During these unprecedented and uncertain times, I am reminded of the eternal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” The strength of our country is based on the fact we are a country of immigrants and we continually strive to be inclusive of all people. Our friends, parents, grandparents, neighbors, and coworkers are immigrants. While Seattle and the west coast can sometimes seem distant to other parts of the country and we ourselves hit our own speed bumps, I don’t question that we are all dedicated to eradicating racial and system inequities for our children and grandchildren.
At Full Council on Monday, Council unanimously passed the “Welcoming Cities” Resolution, affirming the City of Seattle as a Welcoming City that promotes policies and programs to foster inclusion for all, and serves its residents regardless of their immigration or refugee status, race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, gender identity, political ideology, disability, homelessness, low-income or veteran status, and reaffirming the City’s continuing commitment to advocate and support the wellbeing of all residents.

On January 12th at Town Hall, we held “Unity Day”, an event to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I had the opportunity to bring Angela Davis to Seattle to be the keynote speaker. As a PhD, she not only provided a thoughtful academic perspective to national and local politics, but as an activist, she gave personal insight and inspiration. With almost 850 people in attendance, she discussed how 2017 compares to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and underscored how and why the fight against injustice must continue. Davis spoke passionately about restorative-justice programs and ending our prison pipeline, especially for young African Americans.  We must have a heighten sense of focus and ask, “Have we set a path for all children to succeed through our investments and policies?” During my brief remarks that evening, I asked King County to reconsider building a new youth-detention center. This week, I co-wrote an op-ed stating “No New Youth Jail” with King County Councilmember Rob Dembowski. In short, it states, “Five years later, these promises now ring hollow. It is time to hit the reset button on this project for three primary reasons.  First, as Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has recently pointed out, contemporary knowledge calls for a radical rethinking about how and where we deliver juvenile justice.  Second, the current project fails to deliver on the promise of a unified family court.  Finally, the project’s runaway budget violates the promises made to voters and calls for a reset." The full op-ed is provided below and linked here: http://www.seattle.gov/council/meet-the-council/bruce-harrell/no-new-youth-jail.

January was also National Mentoring Month.  Last month, in Council Chambers, I read a proclamation to recognize all the great mentors in our city. Research resoundingly shows that mentoring provides long-term benefits for young people in achieving success in high school, college, and in life. MentoringWorks Washington estimates there are more than 240,000 children in Washington state who could benefit from having a mentor, but only 30,000 have one. I have said this before—I want Seattle to be the mentoring capital of America. We have made several strides on this front, but I promise we can do more.

Time in Olympia.  Last Thursday, I spent the day in Olympia to meet with our state representatives and senators on a number of critical issues. I met with Speaker Frank Chopp, Senator Frockt, Senator Pedersen, Senator Saldana, Senator Rolfes, Senator Nelson, Representative Cody, and Representative Kagi. We discussed issues regarding public safety, banning the box, use of deadly force, transportation, homelessness, and education.   We have some committed and tenacious legislators representing Seattle and need to give them as much support and assistance as possible.  Join me in letting them know we support their efforts and are ready to help.

South End Investments!  Late last year, the City announced $6.5 million in awards for 12 new neighborhood projects as part of the Neighborhood Street Fund program. These projects are focused on pedestrian crossings, signal improvements, sidewalks, and safe routes to schools. I was able to secure two projects in District 2 from this batch of funding:

  • 15th Ave S and S Columbian Way Intersection Revision
    • $2.38 Million
    • Improve walking, biking and transit connections to ASA Mercer Middle School
    • Dramatic revision of the intersection of 15th Ave S and S Columbian Way
    • Combines two signalized intersections into one
    • Resulting curb bulb will provide an opportunity for a public plaza
  • Hawthorne Elementary & S Genesee St Safer Community Pedestrian Connections

Fighting for our youth.  Here is the complete “No New Youth Jail” op-ed:

By Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell & King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski
 
In a speech titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cautioned leaders to not sleep through revolutions unfolding before them, and reminded us that “the time is always right to do what is right.” This core principle of the civil rights movement should serve as a wake-up call to leaders in the county named after him.
 
As we approach the final decision about whether to proceed with construction of a new Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) in Seattle’s Central District, we call on leaders to stop and re-work this proposal. It must be re-designed to achieve our shared goal of ending the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure children and families in crisis are served with a model justice system in a courthouse that supports these objectives. While traditional wisdom certainly supports continuing down the current path of brick and mortar construction, so much recent data and research suggests we have the unique opportunity to construct a facility that not only embraces the fact that incarceration of our youth is not the goal, but has a design driven by this premise. Put another way, it can be driven by the lofty goal of zero use of detention.
     
The CFJC may have been a reasonable idea when it was first conceived many years ago. The project is comprised of two distinct parts: a new youth jail (let’s call it what it is) and unified family law courthouse, allowing for the consolidation and integration of our family law courts, to deliver better outcomes, more efficiently. The courthouse component of the construction would replace a run-down building that is at the end of its useful life. The rationale for a new youth jail facility was less convincing – particularly since the current detention facility was built in 1992. The voters were told that the new center would better serve youth and families in crisis, help protect and heal children, and cost between $200 and $210 million. Residents of King County approved a new levy in 2012 with 55% voting yes. 
 
Five years later, these promises now ring hollow. It is time to hit the reset button on this project for three primary reasons. 
 
First, as Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has recently pointed out, contemporary knowledge calls for a radical rethinking about how and where we deliver juvenile justice.  Second, the current project fails to deliver on the promise of a unified family court.  Finally, the project’s runaway budget violates the promises made to voters and calls for a reset.
 
King County’s Youth Action Plan – the adopted policy for how King County supports our youth - calls for ending the school-to-prison pipeline. The County’s Best Starts for Kids initiative invests $65 million per year in prevention, much of it aimed at preventing youth involvement in our justice system. Seattle’s Family & Education Levy invests more than $30 million annually to support young people. In short, this region is committed to doing right by our youth and families.  The CFJC should support and further these commitments.
 
The first major problem with the CFJC as proposed is that it relies too much on a traditional children’s justice system.  As recently as ten years ago, this system incarcerated 200 young people on an average day. It was designed to serve a significant number of youth from Seattle.  Since then, King County has led the nation in reducing juvenile incarceration rates, cutting them by nearly 75% to about 50 on average per day. We did this in the current facility by radically changing practices to reflect contemporary understanding.
 
It bears repeating: our unparalleled success in reducing juvenile incarceration rates was accomplished in the current facility.  And in 2016, only 23% of the youth in detention were referred by Seattle police. 
 
While some modifications to reduce detention spaces in the new facility have been made, the revisions to the project continue to reflect an incarceration-centered approach to juvenile justice. It is universally accepted that outcomes from traditional “lock ‘em up” justice are dismal. Sadly, not enough thought and planning has been given to designing a facility that would radically shift course in our juvenile justice system—and that is what we must do.
 
We don’t believe that the county should spend another nickel building jail cells for kids. While we believe that our system will need to include confinement for some youth for the foreseeable future, we must continue to significantly reduce the use of incarceration. The current secured detention facility – again, built recently in 1992 – could certainly continue to meet decreasing needs. Rather than build a new jail, we believe that further work is necessary to build a justice center that is fundamentally centered on contemporary juvenile justice practices, rather than punitive youth incarceration.
 
We need a dispersed, community-based juvenile justice system.  We don’t need a project that will perpetuate a centralized 1950’s era kid jail system for another fifty years. A brand new, $225 million-plus juvenile jail and court facility in the Central District does nothing to address the burdens imposed on youth in the system from outside Seattle.  And, there are no compelling arguments that new jail cells will further our shared goals to support children and youth.
 
Another major problem with the proposed CFJC is its failure to unify our family law court system, as was originally envisioned.  Children and families in crisis (e.g. neglected children, dissolution cases with children, etc.) comprise a growing percentage of our cases.  The core principal underlying the planning for the CFJC was that all family and children-related matters should be handled at the same site. But the City of Seattle has not issued construction permits for the two additional stories necessary to fulfill this objective, and the project is now over‑budget.
 
The county is about to construct a family law courthouse that will not, and never will, meet the foundational family law principles underlying the entire project. The current justification is “something is better than nothing.” We disagree.
 
County staff have recently informed elected officials that the CFJC is now over budget – before any construction has even commenced. This is a major issue, but may actually provide the opening to re-assess this project. King County told the voters this project would be constructed at a cost of $200 to $210 million. Current estimates are that it will take at least $225 million -- $15 million more than the high estimate provided to voters. The contractor’s refusal to honor its “guaranteed maximum price” before construction commences is an ominous warning sign for the future budget for the building.
 
For these reasons, we can no longer support future actions to fund, finance, or permit this project. We must “awaken to the great revolution” in juvenile justice reform and hit the pause button. We must re‑assess the wisdom of this project, working hand in hand with experts in juvenile and family law and community leaders.
 
At a minimum, we must explore a path forward that takes a new, unnecessary youth jail off the table. Such a path might allow us to build the family courthouse we actually need by directing those funds to courtrooms and classrooms, not jail cells. 
 
Our goal is to once again open up the dialogue; not to castigate supporters of the project. But more importantly, we want to make sure our future discussions ask the questions that engineers, contractors, and architects wont: Is this facility incorporating all of the information, data, and restorative justice principles intended to improve our youth? Does it reflect lessons we have learned from our policies in the last 50 years?
 
We do not think the current design does.  
 
King County’s residents will live with the decision on this project for at least 50 years. Now is the time to wake up to the revolution in juvenile justice thinking.  Now is the time to do what is right in Martin Luther King County. Our children and families deserve it.
 

Bruce A. Harrell
President, Seattle City Council - District 2
Chair: Education, Equity, & Governance Committee
206-684-8804

seattle.gov/council/harrell | Office: 206-684-8804 | PO Box 34025 Seattle, WA 98124-4025

Copyright © 2017 Seattle City Council, All rights reserved.


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