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#NONEWYOUTHJAIL – Background Behind the New Youth Jail and the Reasons for Opposition
In 2012, King County voters voted for a $210 million levy to create a new youth detention center to replace the old one. In voting for this, voters also agreed to an increase in property taxes for the next nine years. The new youth detention center costs a total of $232 million (Fields). Leaders of the community group EPIC (Ending the Prison Industrial Complex) showed concern and disapproval of this new youth detention center (Fields). This movement of opposition to the youth detention center has been represented by the hashtag #NoNewYouthJail. EPIC outlines the reasons for opposition to the New Youth Jail on their website, and their suggested alternative to it (“Why we Oppose”).
Reasons for Opposition (as presented by EPIC):
- The current youth jail has over-representation of youth of color in the youth detention center (“Why we Oppose”).
- A large portion of disproportionality is not “explained by differential involvement as measured by arrests” (Harris)
- The New Youth Jail did not use any racial equity impact assessment to prevent racial inequities to continue in the new youth jail (“Why we Oppose”)
- Youth detention rates have decreased significantly in Seattle in recent years. “The average daily population was 191 in 1998; in 2012, it was only 70” (“Why we Oppose”)
- Many youth are detained for non-violent crimes (“Why we Oppose”)
- Youth detention has a direct relationship with unsuccessful systems of education, especially in Seattle (“Why we Oppose”)
- “75% of adults who are incarcerated do not have a high school diploma” (Halpert).
Is Incarceration Effective in Rehabilitation?
Not only were there many trends of inequity that caused a lot of people to join EPIC in opposition to the New Youth Jail, there has also been the long-standing question of whether or not incarceration is effective in rehabilitating. There have been many studies that suggest the current structure of the justice system is counter-intuitive to rehabilitation. If anything, it further isolates individuals in the systems and the likelihood of juveniles and adults who are incarcerated returning to jail is higher than never returning.
Ways incarceration is detrimental to an inmate’s mental health, and counter-productive in rehabilitation.
- Due to the strict structure of detention centers, youth who leave these facilities do not get to practice active decision-making on a regular basis, which makes it difficult for them to make decisions for themselves once they leave these facilities as young adults, and are left with little to no structure (Tomar).
- Defining purpose for individuals in these facilities becomes increasingly difficult, especially in the time and space they are provided (Tomar).
- Isolation from family and greater community causes stress and a feeling of irrelevance (Tomar).
- Fear of threat from others within the facility causes anxiety (Tomar).
- Some individuals are more or less likely to adjust to prison society. Those who cannot or do not adjust struggle more with mental health and wellness and often are characterized as violent and distressed (Tomar).
Road Map to Zero Youth Detention
Although Seattle is building the new youth jail (all efforts to end the building of the jail by different community organizers have been unsuccessful), in an attempt at addressing opposers’ concerns, Executive Dow Constantine has created a goal and road map to zero youth detention for King County (Kelety). Executive Constantine has included funding in his plan to reach zero youth detention, and has appointed Seattle and King County Public Health for keeping track of progress (Washington State). The road map focuses on investing in organizations that youth already interact with on a regular basis that could help with preventing them from coming in contact with the justice system to begin with. It also touches on many of the reasons that EPIC said they opposed the new jail. For example, reducing racial inequities, addressing the school to prison pipeline, and alternative restorative justice programs for youth who have committed nonviolent crimes for the first offense (Washington State).
What do you think about these two approaches and ideas? Tell me about it!
If you’d like to know a bit more to form your opinions, here are links to EPIC’s suggestions and the official document of the Road Map to Zero Youth Detention.
Where does positive psychology come in?
Regardless of whether you are in favor of or against the new youth jail, it is undeniable that the juvenile justice system and it’s’ institutions, across the U.S. and in Seattle, need a significant amount of reform in order for them to be equitable and serve the purpose of rehabilitation. It is why Executive Dow Constantine is working towards the Zero Youth Detention goal, and it is why EPIC opposes the New Youth Jail.
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