Washington’s juvenile detention population dropped 40% between 2001 and 2010, according to a new report released Tuesday by the National Juvenile Justice Network. The analysis puts Washington among nine “comeback states” on the issue of juvenile justice.
“It’s almost a linear relationship between when we got smarter about providing services and when we started having fewer arrests,” said King County Chief Juvenile Court Judge Helen Halpert.
Washington incarcerated nearly 2,000 juveniles as recently as 2000, but the number dropped to 1,100 in 2010. King County’s juvenile detention population has plummeted 63% since 1998. Advocates attribute most of that decline to the increase in youth programs designed to rehabilitate and educate children.
“Incarceration hasn’t been proven to keep kids from reoffending,” commented Caedmon Cahill with TeamChild. “We’re getting better at assessing which juveniles should be in jail and for what period of time.”
However, Dustin Washington with American Friends Service Committee believes the numbers are misleading. While overall numbers are down, some more concerning numbers are up, he said.
“I’m really concerned about the racial disparity that still exists,” Washington explained.
African-American juveniles make up more than 42% of the King County youth detention population.
Washington also questions why King County is spending $210 million levy dollars on a new 154-bed Children and Family Justice Center, when the number of juveniles in detention is dropping so significantly.
“Instead of spending money on the back end on new jails and facilities,” he said, “We should spend more money upstream.”
King County points out while an average of 70 beds out of 160 are used per day, the complex is old, small and rundown. The new building will not only be more modern, but allow more program and non-profit space.
“There’s lots of need for community and shelter beds for kids,” Judge Halpert said.
King County hopes to break ground on the new juvenile justice center in 2015.