King County Juvenile Court changes to cut detention bookings by as much as 250 a year

Katherine Hurley, a King County public defender, speaking with a client


King County Public Defender Katherine Hurley
Katherine Hurley, a King County public defender, proposed warrant changes.

Spurred by a King County Department of Public Defense proposal, King County Superior Court is making changes this month that could reduce juvenile detention bookings by as much as 250 a year – reductions expected to have the greatest impact on youth of color.

The Court is doing that by making two significant changes to divert more youth away from detention and to continue a more than decade-long decline in the use of juvenile detention:

  • The first change comes with the addition of an on-call evening judge. When youth qualify for admission to detention but score below a certain level on a risk-assessment tool and have a responsible adult to whom they can be released, the information will be forwarded to a judge. If the judge agrees that release is appropriate, the youth will not be booked into detention and will go home – rather than spending one to three days in detention waiting to see a judge.
  • The second change involves an expansion of Juvenile Court’s two-tier warrant system for youth who have been charged with crimes. For many years, judges have issued warrants for youth who fail to appear for court in two categories. Tier 1 warrants require a youth to be booked into detention and wait one to three days to see a judge. When police officers arrest youth with Tier 2 warrants, they call the Court’s screening unit and get a new court date for the youth. This is communicated both to the youth and his or her guardian.The Court has decided to greatly expand the category of cases for which Tier 2 warrants can be issued.If this system had been in place in 2015, an estimated 250 admissions to detention could have been avoided. Superior Court estimates that this change will reduce the number of youth of color in detention and possibly reduce racial disproportionality.The biggest change is that Tier 2 warrants will now be issued when youth miss their arraignments (the very first hearing) because, often, they have moved or are homeless and had no idea a hearing was scheduled. Considerations of both the type of crime and the type of hearing and whether there have been previous warrants all go into the decision about which type of warrant will be issued.

“It is exciting to be involved in a system that is committed to change, not just for the sake of change, but to achieve better outcomes for our youth and families,” said Chief Juvenile Court Judge Wesley Saint Clair. “It really does take a village to support our youth and families and I am proud that the court continues to devote itself to being a part of the change model.”

The proposal to expand the two-tier warrant system came from King County Public Defender Katherine Hurley, who supervises one of the juvenile units in the Department of Public Defense and who worked with her colleagues in DPD in crafting this proposal.

“The expansion of the two-tier warrant system is an important step towards reducing the unjust, unfair, and unacceptable disproportionality that exists in our juvenile justice system,” she said. “The Department of Public Defense looks forward to ongoing collaboration with our partners to further reduce and, one day, eliminate the detention of youth in our community.”

“I’m proud of the way our public defenders are stepping forward to address the injustices they see in the system,” added Lorinda Youngcourt, who heads the Department of Public Defense. “And I appreciate the willingness of our partners in the criminal justice system to work with us to solve these problems. This is a small but important step that will make a real difference in the lives of hundreds of young people.”

These changes combined with the recent additions of new alternatives to detention – Restorative Mediation, Family Intervention Restorative Services (FIRS), and Creative Justice – are expected to contribute to further declines in the use of detention. Since the late 1990s, King County’s juvenile detention population for youth of all races has decreased by almost 70 percent.

Racial disproportionality, however, has grown. Collaborations between County leaders and the community leaders serving on the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee are committed to making King County the first urban region in the nation to reduce its juvenile detention population and the racial disproportionalities within it at the same.

Hurley said several key players in juvenile justice in King County supported DPD’s proposal to expand the Tier 2 warrant system, including people in the Superior Court’s Juvenile Probation Services and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. That collaboration, she said, made the expansion – the first since 2011 – possible, she said.

King County Superior Court’s Presiding Judge Susan Craighead said more collaboration and positive change for the juvenile justice system lies ahead.

“I am immensely proud of our team at Juvenile Court who worked and collaborated tirelessly for weeks to make these changes happen,” said Susan Craighead, Presiding Judge of King County Superior Court. “Superior Court is excited about the changes, and we look forward to more.”

For more information, contact:

Leslie Brown, Department of Public Defense, 206-263-1364,

King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Susan Craighead, 206-477-1435,

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