The King County Council on Monday gave its unanimous approval to legislation that would prohibit the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) from allowing a juvenile to be interrogated before first talking with an attorney.
The legislation also prohibits DAJD from releasing a juvenile in its custody to law enforcement without a court order.
“When a child is put in a county jail, it is the county’s duty to keep the child safe and look out for the child’s best interest,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, of Des Moines, the prime sponsor of the legislation, in a media release.
Since nearly 70 percent of the children in detention in King County are youth of color, advocates argue the county’s current practice is inherently discriminatory.
“The racial disparities in our criminal justice system are glaring and intolerable,” said Upthegrove, whose District 5 includes parts of Kent. “This legislation is a common sense approach that attacks those disparities, follows the brain science and keeps our kids safe.”
In an effort to gain information on other potentially serious criminal issues, the King County prosecutor has allowed law enforcement to interview juveniles on crimes not related to the reasons that the youth is being detained. Concern has been raised that in these interviews, done without the youth being able to consult with an attorney, that youth could potentially incriminate themselves.
“I work with kids every day that would have benefited greatly from legal counsel in some of their situations,” said Kendrick Glover, director of Kent-based Glover Empowerment Mentoring. “I thank Councilmember Upthegrove for his leadership in taking a positive step in working to reduce the disparities in our juvenile justice system.”
The U. S. Supreme Court has found that youth are more vulnerable to police pressure than adults and often lack the experience, perspective, and judgment to recognize and avoid choices that could be detrimental to them.
“This legislation, vetted through our community-based Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee, will protect our children by ensuring that they will be represented by an attorney who will have their best interests at heart,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, chair of the Council’s Law and Justice Committee, in a media release. “Science, courts, and best practices show that youth must be provided protection from potential self-incrimination and abuses that can occur once in contact with our criminal justice system.”
When juveniles are in custody of King County, DAJD can prohibit police officers from interviewing the juveniles without an attorney present. But the prohibition requires documentation from a public defender or private defense attorney.
This documentation is not regularly provided for every juvenile that is admitted to detention. Additionally, the youth has the right to waive the documentation and speak with law enforcement anyway.
The adopted legislation would ensure that every juvenile must consult with an attorney before making the decision about whether to speak with police officers.
More recently, this issue has gained national attention. In December, after the U.S. Justice Department’s 20-month investigation into discriminatory practices by family court officials in St. Louis County, Mo., the Justice Department and St. Louis County signed a memorandum of understanding prohibiting police interrogations at the county’s juvenile detention center “unless an attorney is present to represent the juvenile.”
This has also prompted state legislatures around the country to hear similar language to Upthegrove’s legislation.