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Can King County stop jailing kids?

A main corridor at the King County Juvenile Detention in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery
A main corridor at the King County Juvenile Detention in Seattle.

Updated 5:54 p.m., 12/11/2017: The King County Council on Monday signaled a commitment to jailing fewer young people.

The council told County Executive Dow Constantine to use an expert report to guide county policy for reducing youth detention.

The report by University of Washington School of Medicine justice expert Eric Trupin makes more than 80 recommendations for ending youth detention. Constantine commissioned it last spring.

Councilmember Rod Dembowski says if we’re going to build a jail, it makes sense to improve it by including the most up-to-date, evidence-based practices.

He told fellow council members Monday that since the county began plans for a new youth detention center, officials have gotten an earful from the community on how to reduce the number of kids in jail. 

“How we can do even more, or be even better at leading on these issues?” he asked.

Dembowski said this kind of work will take time. He said the final version of the ordinance gives a little flexibility to how the executive pursues the report’s goals, while also holding him to account.

He said Constantine will have to provide an annual report and explain why if he doesn’t follow the recommendations.

The ordinance did not get unanimous approval. Councilmember Reagan Dunn voted no.

In a statement, Trupin said the council’s support for the report shows the county’s commitment to youth justice.

The council also passed  an ordinance that would ban the use of solitary for incarcerated youth.

A recent lawsuit alleges that youth charged as adults and housed in the adult jail in Kent spend a significant amount of time alone.

The ordinance contains a narrow exception for safety reasons.