Derrick Wheeler-Smith to serve as Project Director of Zero Youth Detention

Derrick Wheeler-Smith will serve as the Project Director for Zero Youth Detention.

Public Health – Seattle & King County is honored to announce that Derrick Wheeler-Smith will lead the County’s ongoing work to achieve Zero Youth Detention.

Wheeler-Smith was born and raised in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. He’s dedicated his career to youth development in underserved communities, and has a track record of convening stakeholders to improve racial equity.

Wheeler-Smith is a social justice advocate, storyteller, coach, anti-racism trainer and educator, who has been a change-maker from the local to the national level. Previously, Wheeler-Smith served as the National Director of Youth Engagement at World Vision. Currently, Wheeler-Smith works for the Federal Way School District as the Facilitator of Scholar Empowerment and Engagement, leading strategy development in racial equity, restorative practices and scholar engagement.

As Project Director, Wheeler-Smith will lead the implementation of the Road Map to Zero Youth Detention, which outlines strategies to lead with racial justice and further the work underway to transform the juvenile legal system. Wheeler-Smith’s background in youth empowerment makes him poised to build bridges between juvenile legal reform and the upstream community development work that schools, community groups and County-led programs are spearheading to ensure all King County youth are happy, healthy, safe and thriving.

“I’m excited to partner in this work in ways that will break the generational cycle of jail while removing barriers to social, mental, economic and financial success,” Wheeler-Smith explained. “Zero Youth Detention is about restoring futures and moving us away from a school-to-prison pipeline and into a school-to-wealth pipeline for the historically underserved young people in our community.”

Bringing community and legal systems stakeholders together is key to achieving Zero Youth Detention, and the hiring process mirrored this community-oriented approach. The interview panel included County staff, local youth, a parent whose child had been involved in the legal system, and leaders of community organizations.

“King County is leading the nation in taking a public health approach to the juvenile legal system and I am so grateful we’ll have Derrick at the helm as we take on this challenge,” said Public Health Director, Patty Hayes. “He understands the value of taking an evidenced-based, trauma-informed approach, and is a leader in helping institutions do the hard work of structural change.”

Wheeler-Smith will join King County on May 13, 2019.