King County’s catch-and-release proposal for juvenile criminals
October 12, 2022
Although King County’s Restorative Pathways Community (RCP) program has a lot of problems that need to be fixed if it’s going to reduce crime – which isn’t even the program’s described goal or purpose – county officials have an even crazier idea in mind.
Never jailing youth for committing crime and emptying the jails, starting in 2025.
In case you’re wondering if a “zero youth detention by 2025” is hyperbole and not to be taken literally, the county makes it clear they’re quite serious (bold emphasis added):
The Road Map to Zero Youth Detention is King County’s strategic plan to not only further reduce the use of secure detention for youth, but to launch this County on a journey to eliminate it.
It is effectively catch-and-release, which is great for fly fishing and restoring salmon runs, but not for reducing crime.
Thankfully, the task force looking at how to achieve it hit the pause button on moving forward due to increased juvenile crime we’re already experiencing, something that the county’s youth detention dashboard doesn’t track.
Even sympathetic media outlets like PubliCola note the problems with zero youth detention that should have been examined from the start (bold emphasis added):
The timeline for closing down the youth detention center could also get a reality check. Closing the jail requires alternatives to incarceration that don’t exist yet, and the process to come up with those alternatives, which will likely include restrictive housing for youth who present a danger to the community, is proceeding slowly.
Reality has taken the wind out of the county’s sails with regards to this plan, but it’s still under consideration. Its fate could very well depend on the outcome of the King County Prosecutor’s race between Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell and King County Prosecutor Chief of Staff Leesa Manion, as the prosecutor’s office currently “works closely with its King County justice partners and community to launch or expand programs that keep youth out of the justice system,” according to county documents. That includes the RCP program that operates independently of the judiciary.
Make Your Voice Heard!
This zero-detention goal, along with the RCP, is founded on a concept known as “diversion,” in which criminals are given social services rather than spend time in jail or prison. The ideological underpinning is that youth commit crime because they themselves are victims or were driven to crime due to circumstance. By giving them services, the thinking goes, they won’t go on to reoffend.
The reality is a “yes, but no” situation.
Some youth who commit certain types of petty crimes should not be sent to jail. Instead, in an ideal situation they should receive treatment from a program that is held accountable for its effectiveness by those funding it, along with restitution to the victims. Also, those who decide whether to divert a juvenile criminal or not need to be held accountable for their decisions if they divert an offender who goes on to reoffend when there were clear warning signs.
However, there are certain types of crimes that a decent society does not excuse or tolerate regardless of the age of the offender, and keeping them away from the rest of society is the only appropriate response. With such offenses, the top priority is how to ensure the criminal does not or cannot reoffend.
Also, some youth are simply bad characters, as one juvenile defense attorney wrote in a public comment to the county regarding the “zero detention” goal (bold emphasis added):
I have represented numerous juvenile clients as a defense attorney, in cases ranging from theft to rape to manslaughter. Many of those youths felt that they had escaped responsibility and would not be punished if they repeated their mistakes. This reinforced many of their dangerous beliefs or personality traits (such as a sense of superiority to their parents or teachers), which frequently led to escalating patterns of crime. Several of my clients who suffered little to no restrictions on their liberty (during their first case) went on to commit heinous crimes later, including rape and very serious violent offenses, such as manslaughter and an assault that resulted in disfiguring facial burns to the victim.
Whether a criminal youth should be diverted or not from the courts, public safety must come first. We should never prioritize the interests of the guilty at the expense of the innocent.
But if the goal to have zero youth detained by 2025 is to be met, it means diverting offenders regardless of the severity of the crime committed.
There are profound ramifications of this plan, as other public comments sent to the county regarding the goal explain well (bold emphasis added):
Youth who commit crimes should be put in jail to protect the public. Especially those who commit murder…to think that we don’t need a youth jail is unrealistic. I don’t understand the protest against the youth jail. We simply cannot let dangerous youth back onto the street to commit more murders, rapes and crimes. If we do so then we will be a magnet for youth criminals from all over the country to come here just as our drug policy has filled the streets of Seattle with homeless druggies.
Teenagers who commit crimes against society need accountability for their actions. When youths are not held accountable for their actions they seek the path of least resistance and in many cases snub their noses at attempts to correct their distorted thinking/actions & place blame on everyone and everything around them rather than to accept that they broke the law.
Take the case of a 25-year-old man living in King County who in 2019 violently raped a 16-year-old girl and was under investigation for a similar crime when he fatally assaulted a wheelchair-bound homeless man in Bellevue hours after he was released from jail.
What if he himself had been a juvenile? Under the county’s zero detention plan, where do such youth go? If you’re going to detain them in any way, how is that different from jailing them?
But this also has implications for petty crime that is wrecking the quality of life in Seattle. Former governor and Challenge Seattle CEO Christine Gregoire recently called out the state Supreme Court for virtually legalizing drug activity.
“We cannot have an open drug market on Third Avenue and expect we’re going to attract tourists and we’re going to get people to come back to work. We can no longer allow this type of market on Third. We cannot allow an arrest to be made, a person to be booked and released within an hour. We cannot allow the (state) Supreme Court to have made it so our law enforcement officers can’t enforce in this area.”
What’s to discourage youth from using or selling drugs if they see adults getting away with it and they know there’s zero chance of them going to jail?
The entire premise of having no criminal youth in jail is deeply flawed and utopia, like so many programs in the region. The goal shouldn’t be reducing youth detention in general, but making decisions about whether to detain them or not based on whether it will keep them out of the criminal justice while at the same time preserving public safety.
Like with the RCP, reducing juvenile crime is not among the purpose or outcome for “zero youth detention.”
As one of the public comments noted, what message does this send to the young? Commit crimes and you won’t be punished in any meaningful way. What incentive does this offer for those tempted with criminal activity to refrain? It’s not even a get out of jail free card the county is toying with. It’s a stay out of jail card.
If that’s the case, why not commit crimes?
That’s why it’s important you let the prosecutor candidates know how you feel on this issue. Contact Jim Ferrell and Leesa Manion and tell them you’re opposed to the county’s “zero youth detention by 2025” goal!