Identifying and eliminating policies that contribute to racial disproportionality in the juvenile legal system

Bar graph showing the reduction in the use of secure detention in King County

The first objective in the Road Map to Zero Youth Detention sets the tone for and is embedded in all other objectives: Lead with racial equity. To address racial disproportionality in the juvenile legal system, the County must continue identifying and eliminating policies which contribute to racial inequities.

The County is not starting from scratch in this work. The Superior Court, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and the Executive have all taken steps toward reducing racial disproportionately in juvenile detention by focusing on policies and practices and expanding access to programmatic alternatives to detention.

Below is a snapshot of some of the work being done across King County to address policies and practices contributing to racial disproportionality. Read more in the Road Map Report.

The Superior Court

The Superior Court has compiled a Juvenile Court Services Community Report that shares the Court’s initiatives to reduce the use of secure detention and its actions to address racial disproportionality. In addition, the following Court related activities are underway:

  • Screen and release: On-call juvenile judges are able to review cases and release youth outside of court hours.
  • 2-tier warrant expansion: By reducing the number of warrants that lead to youth detention, law enforcement are able to provide youth a new court date and release them in the field.
  • Trainings on implicit bias and institutional racism: Court staff participate in dialogue and trainings provided by national leaders on understanding privilege, implicit bias, and institutional racism and how this impacts youth, families, and communities.
  • Mentorship: Juvenile Court Services contracts with community organizations to provide high quality mentorship services, building healthy non-parental adult relationships with youth.

The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (PAO) works closely with its King County justice partners and community to launch or expand programs that keep youth out of the legal system. A snapshot of the work of the PAO includes:

Path to diversion, Community Accountability Board (CAB) or Choose 180. Source: Juvenile Court Services Community Report
  • Community Empowered Disposition Alternative and Resolution (CEDAR): CEDAR is an “expedited” track for youth facing certain first-time juvenile felonies that would allow for early acceptance of responsibility and provide positive incentive to engage in community resources and support. Stay tuned to the blog for more information on the CEDAR pilot, launched this May.
  • Choose 180: This pre-filing juvenile diversion program teaches youth the skills necessary to avoid entering the juvenile legal system by reconnecting them with their community. Learn more about Choose 180 on the blog.
  • Family Intervention Restorative Services (FIRS): As an alternative response to family violence, this program immediately offers services to youth and diverts them from the juvenile legal system. Learn more about FIRS on the blog.

The Executive

The Executive, through the Departments of Public Health, Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), and Community and Human Services has launched or expanded a number of activities. Major efforts include:

King County Youth Services Center
  • Transferred youth charged as adults into the Youth Services Center: As of December 2017, all youth charged as adults are housed at the Youth Services Center.
  • Public health approach to juvenile secure detention: A public health approach is a way to change a whole system to achieve better outcomes for children, youth, families, and communities that is strength-based and emphasizes resilience. Applied to juvenile detention, a public health approach focuses on the well-being of youth, families, and communities to drive changes to services, systems, and root causes.
  • Workforce Development: Foundational to a public health approach in juvenile detention is a focus on workforce development. Trainings are provided to detention staff in the areas of science-based adolescent brain development, providing trauma-informed services, restorative mediation, interpersonal communication and direct supervision.
  • Revising the behavior management system: Driven by a growing understanding of adolescent brain science and alignment with trauma responsive principles, DAJD convened a multidisciplinary team of detention staff and mental health professionals to build a new behavior management system for youth in secure detention, implemented in summer 2018. The focus of this work has been on reducing the risk of trauma reactions and the use of solitary confinement while supporting positive interactions with youth.

In Collaboration

Additional actions taken by the Executive, Court, or Prosecutor to reduce the use of secure detention include:

  • Implementing enhanced electronic home monitoring technology by working with the Court to support youth with more complex needs and their ability to participate in electronic home monitoring.
  • Implemented revised solitary confinement protocols
  • Revising behavioral health services contracts to better serve youth in secure detention, ensuring that they are connected with services that are trauma-informed and that they have individualized care plans developed in collaboration with detention center staff.
  • Supporting revisions to state law that would make evidence-based behavioral health services available prior to contact with the legal system.  The County will again support this effort in the 2019 state legislative session.
  • Establishing restorative justice practice and other non traditional approaches for youth referred to the juvenile legal system for serious offenses. For example, peacemaking incorporates victim advocates, mentors, family members and community leaders through transformative mediation to strengthen relationships, build community, and facilitate innovative problem-solving. Learn more about restorative justice on the blog.
  • Creating opportunities for young people who face systemic barriers to success by investing $2.3 million of Best Start for Kids funding to community organizations serving youth and families. These organizations are providing culturally appropriate services and supports in communities.

Stay tuned to the blog as we explore some of these programs and practices in greater depth in the Diving into the Road Map blog series.