The Road Map to Zero Youth Detention

On July 21, 2020, King County Executive, Dow Constantine, committed to eliminating secure detention for youth in King County by 2025. While the commitment to a specific timeline is new, the work to achieve the goal of Zero Youth Detention began in 2017 when King County Executive, Dow Constantine, announced Public Health – Seattle & King County’s Zero Youth Detention Initiative (ZYD).

Getting to zero requires a collective effort between systems and the community. Together we are working to move fully into restorative, holistic, and community-based alternatives; away from the punitive model of detention. The ZYD Roadmap is the County’s strategic plan for not only working to reduce the use of secure detention and electronic home monitoring for youth in King County, but also has launched the County on our journey to end it.

What is the Road Map?

The strategies and actions in the Road Map to Zero Youth Detention respond to the impacts of trauma and adversity in the lives of youth involved in the juvenile legal system and those who have been harmed when a crime occurs. Informed by youth, their families, community, and system partners, the Road Map outlines practical solutions designed to improve community safety, help young people thrive, keep youth from entering the juvenile legal system, divert youth from further legal system involvement, and support strong communities. Dive into the 5 Road Map objectives:

  1. Lead with racial equity.
  2. Prevent youth from entering the juvenile legal system by focusing upstream and on systems to have the greatest impact.
  3. Divert youth from further law enforcement, formal legal processes, and secure detention into community-based options.
  4. Support youth and families to reduce recurrence of legal system involvement and increase healthy outcomes.
  5. Align and optimize connections between systems to increase effectiveness.

Our work with community and system partners has already resulted in making King County’s youth incarceration rates the lowest it’s ever been in County history and some of the lowest of any major US city.

Nevertheless, there is still work that needs to be done. We have not reached our end goal yet. “Each child incarcerated in King County represents a child we have failed,” said Derrick Wheeler-Smith, Director of Zero Youth Detention. “We need to and will do better.”

Learn more about current rates and other data on ZYD’s Data Dashboard.

What is Zero Youth Detention currently doing?

Research shows little relationship between youth incarceration and an overall rise in youth crime in the community. King County’s experience mirrors this research, with youth felony cases decreasing at the same time we are reducing the use of secure detention. In Q1 2020, admissions to secure detention fell 23% and the average daily number of youths in secure detention was 33.2. These numbers are the lowest ever recorded in King County.

The ZYD Data Dashboard shares the ongoing progress made toward Zero Youth Detention. It also highlights other issues such as racial disparities within the system and other systemic issues we are still working to fix.

ZYD is actively involved in ongoing work with communities, families, schools, legal systems, local governments, and more. These partnerships, programs, and initiatives contribute to King County’s goal of Zero Youth Detention by 2025.

  • Electronic Home Monitoring – Request for Proposal:

In 2019, there was approximately 250 unique youth assigned to EHM. Each day in 2019, an average of 35 youth were assigned to the program. A typical stay on EHM lasted 40 days. 88% of youth assigned to EHM in 2019 identified as people of color (Native American 5%; Asian and Pacific Islander 7.3%; Black 51%; Hispanic 25.1%).

The goal of the Electronic Home Monitoring (EHM) Request for Proposal (RFP) is to contract with one or more community-based organization(s) to meet the needs of youth and their families who are impacted by EHM. The intended outcome of this project is for youth and family members or guardians to benefit from interventions that are therapeutic, restorative, strengths-based, racially, and ethnically affirming and founded on culturally appropriate practices that emphasize healing. Eligible applicants have the capacity to meet the needs of families on EHM and partner with King County legal system partners and ZYD.  The long-term intention is to develop community alternatives that eliminate the need for secure detention and all other forms of legally sanctioned confinement or surveillance of youth.

  • Regional Approach to Youth Gun Violence:

Research validates the adverse impacts on and very real lived experiences of youth growing up in impacted communities, like South King County, inundated by gun violence. By actively addressing youth gun violence, we do the essential work to stop our young people from dying tonight, while creating new systems and building community that allows for equitable quality and quantity of life to freely exist.

The regional approach to gun violence is an initiative under the umbrella of ZYD, focused on developing a comprehensive public safety plan that addresses and stops youth gun violence in King County. Our 40+ legal, political, and community partners are dedicated to coordinating and aligning across systems to do the work of disrupting and dismantling historically racist and inequitable systems. We are committed to building attainable conduits to justice, employment, education, healthcare, and equitable opportunities for children and young adults. By engaging practices around restorative justice, preventing youth from entering the juvenile legal system, and creating community-based alternatives we are restoring hope to those most impacted by violence.

  • School-Based Behavioral Health Diversion (SBBHD) Project

For 20 years there has been prevalent use of inequitable zero-tolerance policies and exclusionary discipline, in addition to a significant increase in school-based law enforcement. Many schools adopted zero-tolerance policies that go far beyond the federal mandate requiring the expulsion of students who bring guns to school to include a list of infractions including violence, other weapons, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and other more minor offenses. This created a pathway for children to be labeled as disruptive and problematic in schools. Suspension and expulsion, common reactions to even low-level mischief in schools, are often the first step towards involvement in the legal system.

ZYD will partner with one or two community-based organizations to provide services at one middle school and one high school in King County. The SBBHD project is a collaboration with School-Based Partnership teams to provide an alternative to calling law enforcement by addressing the root causes of behavior issues instead. In an SBBHD center, youth are screened and connected to community-based health services that meet their needs.  This helps identify youth with behavioral health needs, reduces disproportionate referrals to the legal system, and increases opportunities to receive services that have demonstrated positive effects on redirecting behavior and improving outcomes for children.

Zero Youth Detention is a necessary and attainable goal. Nevertheless, it is just a starting point. “Let’s not stop with phasing out secure detention in 2025,” says Wheeler-Smith. “Let’s keep moving to ensure every child is happy, healthy, safe, and thriving.”

Subscribe to the ZYD blog and continue following the data dashboard to learn how ZYD is progressing toward the goal of zero youth in secure detention.