February 2015 Bar Bulletin
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From the Desk of the Presiding Judge

New Justice Center Needs Grassroots Support

By Judge Susan Craighead


This month I am mounting my soapbox to call attention to a cancer growing on the City of Seattle's body politic. The movement opposing construction of the Children and Family Justice Center is growing, especially in the wake of Ferguson. Its leaders are utilizing tactics calculated to intimidate anyone with a contrary view - be they neighbors who want to replace the existing eyesore or city councilmembers facing their first district re-election bids.

Those of us who worked to get the ballot measure passed - the KCBA helped lead the charge - need to reach out and assure members of the City Council that we will stand with them as they heed the will of the majority of voters, rather than fulfill the demands of a vocal group of 200 to 500 opponents.

In a previous column, I described being shouted down as a "racist" when I addressed the City Council's Land Use Committee about the need for minor amendments to the City's land use code to allow us to construct the new, voter-approved Children and Family Justice Center. Despite the tone of last fall's hearings, I was hopeful that the Court and King County Executive Dow Constantine would be able to demonstrate our commitment to reducing racial disproportionality in the juvenile justice system.

How naïve we were. We thought then that the opponents of the building shared that commitment. I am beginning to wonder if the opposition is more interested in organizing around a symbol - namely, stopping the building - than in the hard work required to address the root causes of racial disproportionality.

Sometimes opposition groups such as End the Prison Industrial Complex and Youth Undoing Institutional Racism sound as they though they believe that they are calling to the attention of community leaders the problem of racial disproportionality for the very first time. In fact, King County has been working to reduce disproportionality and use of detention for the past 15 years.

We were successful in driving down the absolute numbers of youth in detention - from well over 200 in the 1990s to just 42 yesterday. This is one of the lowest rates of incarceration of youth of any large urban jurisdiction in the country. While this means fewer youth of color are incarcerated, those youth who are in detention are disproportionately youth of color (more than 40 percent are African American, compared to 6 percent of King County's population).

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