Convergence Zones of Crime: Navigating the Impact of Policy Changes on Community Safety
Updated: Nov 12
Dow Constantine's decision to close the youth jail after spending over $200 million on a new facility has raised serious concerns about its impact on public safety, especially given the alarming rise in crime in our communities, with a significant portion involving youth who often act with impunity.
The project governance of closing the detention center has now shifted into the hands of the DCHS from DAJD and the closure of the jail hinges on changing state laws. Dow Constantine has changed the name of the "Zero Youth Detention" initiative to end secure detention for youth to "Care and Closure". This transition places more responsibility for public safety on local cities, but not all cities are equally equipped to manage the implications of this shift.
This 'Not the Mirror" blog post delves into the backstory, sheds light on the current system, and introduces King County’s new plan. We're not in the regular paper; we've created our own space to discuss how government decisions impact our city. No drama here, just the facts we've gathered, mostly from the August 2023 King County Care and Closure Progress Report, advisory committee meetings and other work being done in our community for the sake of accountability. Join us for a straightforward look at plans to close secure juvenile detention.
The draft plan to close the jail is focused on encouraging young offenders to stay in alternative detention facilities that provide a more comfortable, supportive and inviting environment. While this is aimed at improving the well-being of these youth, it also raises grave concerns about whether it adequately addresses the growing crime problem in our communities. Here are excerpts from the August 2023 King County Care and Closure progress report.
Here are some of the state laws that will need to be addressed before King County secure detention can officially close.
Here's some history of the juvenile Justice reform over the years. This information was provided by Jimmy Hung who heads the juvenile division at the King county prosecutor's office and believes that in communities where bullets fly, closing the jail is the desired solution.
Here's information on the resource center and assessment team
Here is more on incentives.
Here's some information on existing programs.
In recent years, crimes involving youth have escalated into more serious offenses as seen in the data below.
Downgrades in Crime Coding and Why It Matters
King County is currently using the frequency of arrests to measure how often people commit crimes again. The concern is that it's becoming increasingly difficult to determine if there's a good reason to arrest someone based on King County prosecutorial standards in the first place, with many victims not cooperating, local police shortages and the no pursuit police laws. This is making it questionable as a reliable measure of repeat offenses when timely accurate data is crucial.
Many cases are being declined by King County including felonies which are then downgraded to misdemeanors. The downgrading of crimes from felonies to misdemeanors for the purpose of prosecution and subsequent NIBRS crime data miscategorizations raises questions about how the system is functioning. NIBRS crime data is standardized and based on separate criteria that should not be coded to local prosecution.
Many times when prosecutors don't pursue a case, the crime isn't even counted anymore. However, NIBRS is ONLY interested in 'Law Enforcement,' not prosecution, period. Crimes are often committed without a known suspect and/or arrest, but they all still constitute a crime. Mayors, prosecutors, and attorneys don't have a say in what a crime is, as defined by the FBI's NIBRS guidelines, not even Satterberg or Manion. This is where the entire accounting system has imploded and become unreliable. Crimes are not being recorded, getting deferred, being denied, and all of that isn't getting counted. This leads to them saying, "Our programs are working." The ONLY way to know if their programs are reducing crime in a community is to accurately record and track the real raw crime numbers without ANY outside influence from the courts.
Here are some examples from 2021 of downgrades involving youth compiled from police reports and subsequent NIBRS crime data categorization. These downgrades continue to occur today!
In looking at overall 911 call data for thefts and shoplifting in Federal Way, and comparing the disposition codes of these calls, it is evident that most do not lead to arrest. Therefore arrest data is not a good measure of community impact. These lower level crimes that appear to be decreasing based on NIBRS data are occurring with greater frequency within our communities.
The presence of the Washington State no police pursuit laws and other factors has contributed to a growing sense of lawlessness. Furthermore, It has been revealed that only 50% of the youth diverted to the Restorative Community Pathways Program have accepted services, with no accountability for those who decline. In the face of a significant increase in car theft, armed carjackings, armed robberies, smash and grabs and other serious crimes committed by our youth, the focus remains on healing offenders regardless of their willingness to rehabilitate, with little regard for the societal impact.
Below are the accountability measures for the Restorative Community Pathways nonprofits. So far the data has not been timely and the measures are quite vague and concerning.
Convergence Zones of Crime
The implementation of programs by King County aimed at preventing youth incarceration, have been rolled out over the years in tandem with the implementation of laws designed to promote fairness in school discipline and support for at-risk youth. The implementation of these strategies within the judicial system and community and schools have often operated in silo and there appears to be an overlap of strategies in many cases. For example, many have heard of Communities In Schools as an organization that serves youth through mentoring and other services. Within schools, support systems have been established for homeless families, refugees, and those in need of language support, with training focused on de-escalation and trauma-informed practices and a positive approach to behavior interventions. Restraint and isolation laws and a threat assessment are components of schools.
Federal special education laws aim to promote inclusion, but come with their own set of challenges and implications. It is essential to take a very close look at these laws combined with the impacts of closing the youth jail on schools over the years. One particular consideration in the verbiage of the Care and Closure document relates to the Least Restrictive Environment. This verbiage is found both within the Federal special education laws/guidance and within the care and closure initiative draft document.
The impact of these two equity benchmarks acting in tandem within our community as the number of referrals to the youth jail has significantly dropped over the years while adding an increasing amount of need to our schools and communities has created convergence zones of crime in our communities and put community and schools increasingly at risk.
Considering the initiative prioritizes diversion whenever possible and considering many will go home and considering laws limiting the notification of schools when youth are involved in crimes, and considering many mandates put on schools including the need to serve every student that comes through the door with increasingly limited funding, this poses very serious concerns. Since the 1990s, referrals to the youth jail have dropped from 16,000 to several dozen with very few resulting in detention. The few remaining are short term detentions with many committing very serious crimes before returning back to the community as quickly as the same day of arrest and booking. The money saved by King County in the process does not follow diverted youth into the schools and communities and this has had a disproportionate impact across the county.
In South King County cities, the challenges posed by the closure of the youth jail have been exacerbated by an increase in tax-exempt housing and unfunded mandates from new state laws over the years. This has created an environment where public safety is compromised and has led to negative impacts on our school districts.
While schools have collaborated with the community by referring students to programs and mentors, the effectiveness of these programs varies. There have been cases where essential support partnerships were missing, leading to concerns raised by the youth and families during listening sessions. The rigid nature of some programs can result in unmet needs in a permissive environment, potentially creating more victims while awaiting involvement or experiencing refusal to participate or ineffective strategies.
Overall the intent is to create more supportive environments in schools and in the community which can be positively impactful, but the reality is that overall public safety is increasingly at risk due to rising youth involvement in criminal activities. The pandemic shined a bright light on this issue that was already occurring within our communities.
The prevailing sentiment that young offenders belong in schools rather than jails has contributed to serious safety issues that cannot be dismissed. Reports of more students bringing guns to school and increasing drug-related incidents are troubling. In light of these challenges, it is crucial to redefine the least restrictive environment, especially for young individuals who commit violent crimes, are mentally unstable, or are actively engaged in drug abuse.
Here are a few graphs that depict the drops in referrals over the years and a graphic outlining the layers of of prevention and diversion currently.
Here's a flow chart of the current judicial system with prevention intervention diversion and secure detention followed by reconnection.
Compare this with the proposed plan that looks more like a crime laundering scheme with layers of interventions and diversions as real crimes escalate in our communities.
Listening Sessions with Local Nonprofits in Partnership with DCHS
Listening sessions with the community have revealed a shared emphasis on providing stability for young individuals and supporting their families. The prevailing consensus is that jails are harmful and should be abolished. However, the impact of this change on public safety cannot be ignored, and the concerns of those who hold differing opinions should be taken seriously.
The report below highlights the limited number of voices and perspectives from victims, which must be considered.
Below are some highlights from listening sessions.
El Centro de La Raza
Glover Empower Mentoring
Pro Se Potential
Victim Support Services
Your Money Matters Mentoring
Consejo Youth Council
Urban League Electronic Home Monitoring
Miscellaneous DCHS Facilitated Discussions
The decision to close the youth jail, while aiming to improve the well-being of young offenders and their families, raises grave concerns about public safety. The surge in crime, often involving youth who act with impunity, calls for a thorough reassessment of the measures in place. Public safety should remain a top priority, and the impact of these changes on our communities cannot be ignored. It is crucial that the people with the knowledge about the systems be invited to the table and that does not appear to be the case so far. When they ARE invited to the table, it is not the leaders who are invited but rather those working on the ground level who may not have a full understanding of the laws and impacts considering much of what happens is confidential and protected by administrators.
If YOU want to have a voice at the table, you will need to watch for more listening sessions and add your voice to the collection of feedback. You can also email your King County council and Dow Constantine. We should watch for upcoming legislation and share testimony in these sessions as well. This will need to be a state wide effort as the county seeks to change the laws to enable closing the jails.