Stop Plans to Build Youth Jail

On Sunday, a group of Seattle University students attended a one-day encampment in front of the King County Youth Detention Center to protest plans to build the Children and Family Justice Center—another youth jail thinly veiled as a community center. To spend $210 million on a new youth jail would only contribute to the prison industrial complex, the unfair targeting of youths of color, and would not make anyone safer.

While some argue that kids need to have a safe environment while their legal matters are pending, building a youth jail would only be treating the symptom (albeit ineffectively) of a much larger, systemic problem. It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a burn and saying that’s the solution, instead of acknowledging that the burn was caused because the right protective gear was not readily available. So many societal structures lead to the mass incarceration of youths of color. According to data from King County’s government website, black youth make up only 10 percent of the country’s total youth population, but now make up almost half of the detention population. In theory, a youth detention center or “Children and Family Justice Center” could be effective in reforming youths and keeping them safe—but that will not happen until these racial disparities are nonexistent.

The $210 million can and should be spent towards something else that could radically change an oppressive system. For instance, last year a think tank appointed by Seattle Public Schools recommended that the district open an office devoted to the needs of black male students, in response to studies that have shown black males as a group have the lowest graduation rates and high expulsion rates in schools across the U.S. These are exactly the types of programs that we should be funding—not more youth jails.

—Melissa Lin, Editor in Chief