Why Are We Using a Public Health Approach Towards Eliminating Youth in Detention? 

In November 2017, Executive Dow Constantine wanted King County to rethink how juveniles in the area were being detained. System and community partners came together and devised a “public health approach.” 

Zero Youth Detention program director Derrick Wheeler-Smith says addressing youth incarceration is natural fit for Public Health: “Look at the numbers of young people – particularly black and brown young men – whose lives are derailed, uprooted and cut short by the legal system.” 

 Wheeler-Smith continued by saying: “If people got sick with a disease at the same rate, and with the same negative impacts, we’d call it an epidemic and we’d want the Public Health department to take action. That’s the approach we’re taking in King County.” . 

Currently, King County Public Health’s Zero Youth Detention is collaborating with community members, legal officials, political figures and system stakeholders to address systemic racism by finding alternative to detention. 


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