King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an order on Thursday that directed all youth younger than 18 who have been charged as adults will be housed at the Youth Services Center on East Alder Street Seattle, subject to discharge of full bargaining obligations with unions.
Youth now at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent will be transferred to the YSC as logistics allow, according to a county media release. Five youth have been transferred as of Oct. 26. Fifteen youth currently remain at the Maleng Regional Justice Center.
By March 1, no youth will be housed at the Maleng Regional Justice Center, except under emergency situations.
The decision comes after several media articles about how King County has treated juvenile offenders with adult jail rules and practices at the RJC in Kent and didn’t offer adequate educational programs. The practices came to light because of a class action lawsuit filed Oct. 23 in federal court against the county by Columbia Legal Services, a nonprofit firm representing teenage plaintiffs.
Females under 18 and charged as adults are currently housed at the Youth Services Center.
By state law, 16- or 17-year-olds are automatically charged as an adult if they are charged with a violent offense such as murder, manslaughter, rape or other crimes. In certain circumstances, the juvenile, the prosecutor or the court may make a motion to transfer the juvenile to adult criminal prosecution.
The Youth Services Center has staff and programming better able to meet the needs of youth. Services include:
• A King County library branch
• Full-service school that includes summer courses. Youth are typically in class for six hours per day
• Programming with volunteers that includes creative writing, improv and gardening
• Mental health and adolescent clinic provided by physicians from Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington
• Developmentally appropriate discipline based on adolescent brain science
“King County’s leaders are united in pushing forward with the best ideas in juvenile justice reform. By moving youth charged as adults to the Youth Services Center, we are able to offer age-appropriate programs and services to help them get back on track,” Constantine said. “This is just one reform of many, including creating more alternatives to detention and investing in the resolution of family challenges. As our work continues, we will do everything we can to help young people overcome the struggles of adolescence and the burdens of history.”
In response to the suit by Columbia Legal Services, county officials issued the following statement:
“The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention is still investigating the allegations made by Columbia Legal Services. However, the recent lawsuit filed by Columbia Legal Services, has highlighted what we have known: there is a difference in services provided to juveniles housed at the Maleng Regional Justice Center relative to the Youth Services Center and we have the opportunity to offer juveniles currently housed at the Maleng Regional Justice Center more services at the Youth Services Center.”
The county also addressed the costs of moving teen offenders to Seattle from Kent:
“The Youth Services Center needs about $75,000 of capital investment to open two additional units. This work can be done with existing funds set aside for maintenance projects. Staffing and operations will require about $1 million in additional funds at the Youth Services Center in 2018, depending on how quickly staff can be hired and the cost of providing additional programming. These costs would be covered by existing reserves in the county’s general fund.”