getting to zero: 2019 king county youth detention data

We updated our Zero Youth Detention Data Dashboard to reflect the number of youth in detention in 2019.

In keeping with our guiding principle of transparency and accountability, this dashboard is a method for us to share progress on efforts to achieve the goal of Zero Youth Detention, and to highlight the areas – primarily, racial disproportionality – where we need to do better.


Fewer youth in secure detention:

  • In 2019, admissions to secure detention and the average number of youth detained each day dropped to their lowest in recorded King County history. The “average daily population” (ADP) for 2019 – the average number of young people who were incarcerated in King County on any given day in the year – was 41.7 youth. This number includes youth facing adult charges, who prior to June 2018 were housed in adult facilities and not typically included in the overall juvenile ADP.
  • Fewer young people are entering the juvenile legal system. Juvenile referrals and filings continued to fall in 2019 to their lowest point since first being tracked, down 35% and 41%, respectively. These reductions align with our goal of promoting upstream community promotion and prevention. These numbers also indicate the success of policies and programs to divert youth into community support programs instead of formal legal charges and secure detention.
  • As the overall number of detained youth decreased in 2019, the proportion of those youth in “alternatives to secure detention” – namely, electronic monitoring – continued to increase. This aligns with the ongoing Zero Youth Detention objective to divert youth in the legal system to the least restrictive environment based on their individual needs.

Racial disproportionality continues:

  • Black, Native and Youth of Color continue to be disproportionately represented in secure detention in King County compared to White youth. In 2019, Black, Native and youth of color were 6.9 times more likely to be incarcerated compared to White youth in King County, a slight increase compared to 2018.
  • This disparity is particularly stark for Black youth. In 2019, while Black youth represented only 10% of the county’s youth population, they represented 47% of youth admitted to secure detention. In comparison, White youth represented 53% of King County’s youth population but only 23% of youth admitted to secure detention. This indicates that while efforts to reduce the number of youth in secure detention have benefited youth of all races and ethnicities, we must do more to overcome the historical and systemic racism.

“I’m encouraged by the county’s stated goal of Zero Youth Detention and how the data is starting to align with that goal,” said Derrick Wheeler-Smith, Zero Youth Detention Director. “But, when Black youth are 19 times more likely to be in secure detention than White youth, we must do better. I want to challenge myself, and my partners in the juvenile legal system, to focus on the racial equity impacts of each decision we make in order to identify and eliminate policies that further racism. I also want to improve how we center the voices of Black and Brown youth and families in this work, to take us beyond the data we see in this dashboard and better understand the lived experiences and resiliency behind these numbers.”

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