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  • Anna Patrick

Finding Equilibrium: Striking a Balance Between Diversion and Accountability

Updated: Mar 10

Over the years, our communities have sought to address violence involving youth.  This has resulted in a drastic drop in youth detention across the county beginning in the late 1990s until now through diversion programs and other interventions.  In 2014, Federal Way was one of several cities in King County with the most juvenile diversions.  This blog relates to concerns about lack of prosecution and the push to close the youth detention center and the intersection with reforms in the schools.

The Following is a Timeline of Relevant Events.

As reforms have been rolled out, issues have been brought to light about limitations and accountability involving diversion programs. There have been ongoing reports of increasing violence in our schools and communities.

Much of this is a direct result of policy work by elected officials, work groups and grant recipients over the years. Improving these systems will require partnerships and honesty and a path of accountability for offenders that is swift to protect potential victims of violence while getting offenders the help they need.

There is no disputing that these programs can prevent violence and support a healthier community. Having additional tools is always beneficial. The issue lies with advocating for dismantling all of the other systems that are supposed to work together when prevention doesn’t work.

Thorough data collection is vital to understand community impacts. While diversion programs can be helpful, their limitations might unintentionally worsen violence in our communities.


Early Findings of Limitations with Diversion Programs

The 2017 University of Washington study of the 180 program and Saturday School program revealed a concerning lack of involvement by a significant number of those referred to the program and recommended more accurate data collection.

King County also implemented a program for family intervention and restoration in 2015 (FIRS) which showed a drop in the average length of stay in the youth detention center. According to the program, there are limitations in who should be referred to the program.


New Standards for the Courts - Prevent Imminant Physical Harm

In 2022, Washington State Legislature passed E2SHB 1227 - the Keeping Families Together Act. More information can be found here

Here's a summary of KFTA

Here's a decision tree for washington courts.


Formation of Federal Way Violence Prevention Coalition

In response to escalating violence in the community, the Federal Way Violence Prevention Coalition formed in 2016. Determining existing resources and needed gaps guided policy.

Through this coalition, led by Chi Franciscan, a partnership formed between the City of FW police department, Federal Way Public Schools, Habitat for Humanity and Chi Franciscan.

Police Chief Andy Hwang shared about existing program to engage youth and combat regional gang violence.

A questionnaire was sent out to youth via the FW school district. This survey was limited after it was determined that it could not be added to the existing school questionnaire., however, there were a few key takaways.

An existing program of support in our schools is Communities in Schools. According to the Federal Way Highline website, "We help make sure that every student, regardless of race, gender, ability, zip code, or socioeconomic background has what they need to unlock their full potential in school and beyond. We walk by their side to challenge the systems and barriers that stand between them and their success in life."


Presenting the Plan and Public Testimony on Addressing Violence

Notes from Violence Prevention Coalition - findings and plan.

Notes from the city sponsored Domestic Violence Presentation.


Chi Franciscan Partners With Our School Districts

The Chi Franciscan Violence Prevention initiative collaborates with select school districts, cities, and police departments, aiming to reduce arrests and juvenile detention referrals. By analyzing Dangerous Behavior data, school discipline, attendance, and academic data, the initiative works to prevent further violence. The initiative provides training tools to schools and emphasizes data-driven policy to support its goals.


School Discipline Reforms to address the School to Prison Pipeline

There were measures also taking place at the state legislative level and the federal level to address the school to prison pipeline. Laws and policies were created around school discipline and special education to help create a more supportive environment and prevent learning loss due to school removal. Attached is the most recent example discipline matrix that is referred to on the Washington State OSPI website.

Many tools were introduced including PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports).


Dangerous Behavior School Discipline Data Collected by Chi Franciscan Violence Prevention Initiative

Dangerous behavior data is a specific disciplinary offense previously measured by our school district, as outlined in the rights and responsibilities handbook. Dangerous behavior in the Federal Way School district has been a key data point monitored by the Chi Franciscan Violence Prevention Initative in conjunction with the goal of less arrests for crime committed by youth. It is defined as "engaging in behavior which a reasonable person would know creates a risk of injury to self or others is prohibited." The origin of this disciplinary category is unclear, and it is no longer listed as one of the current offenses.

Some dangerous behaviors may stem from underlying disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Autism, and various mental health conditions, which can include violent outbursts of anger or aggression towards others or oneself. In cases where behaviors are linked to a known disability, they may not be considered disciplinary matters under the law. Additionally, there may be variability in how incidents are defined, which could be influenced by individual biases and external pressures against reporting. Consequently, this may have led to discrepancies in dangerous behavior disciplinary data.

To understand the complexities of school discipline and special education laws, you can learn more by referring to all discipline and special education related complaints and findings on the ospi website.


Accountability issues with Grants - Youth Action Team and Best Starts

The Chi Franciscan Violence Prevention Initiative partnered with Best Starts for Kids funded Youth Action Team to address violence in the community. Youth Action Team collaborated with The FW police department and school district to address violence in the community and share perspectives. What initially began as a violence prevention initiative partnership morphed into a movement to divert funds from the already depleted police department and close the juvenile detention center. Youth Action Team along with other Best Starts for Kids funded programs advocated for diverting these funds into community nonprofits where youth would be met with service providers who could better prevent and intervene with high risk youth.. This movement began in 2017 and accelerated after 2020 in order to address the desire for police accountability.

A Seattle Times investigative reporter shed light on some serious findings with Best Starts for Kids grant funded diversion programs. Key Issues are as follows:

  • In some cases, county officials don't know how the money is being used or if the programs are working well, and there are concerns about whether the nonprofits can provide effective support, especially given instances of some staff's current involvement in serious crimes.

  • After finding out about money problems, the county took action but lowered requirements in subsequent round of funding for the same nonprofit.

It's concerning that our tax dollars support political agendas and efforts to stop gentrification in South King County. Some would argue that King County is influencing city policies, unfairly overburdening low-income cities while avoiding responsibility and supporting programs that lead to more violence and less justice for victims.

Despite serious findings, King County Best Starts for Kids funded Youth Action Team again while setting less expectations for accountability to meet goals with the subsequent contract.

Best Starts uses the Results Based Accountability framework. What is presented to the public are simplified numbers with many of the issues spelled out by the Seattle Times in this Anatomy of a Factoid. Here's the website for more information.


Accountability Issues with Grants - Restorative Community Pathways

In 2020, Restorative Community Pathways funded eight nonprofits with grants to divert additional crimes including some violent felonies as well as implementing a home ankle monitoring system. The program envisioned schools addressing violence through restorative circles and mentorship programs.  

Despite glaring loopholes and issues with this program such as lack of participation and follow through by up to 50% of those referred to the program and programs receiving funds while not providing services, Dow Constantine announced the planned closing of the youth detention center by 2025 and convened community planning meetings and listening sessions. Dow has since moved that target date to 2028 in response to serious concerns.

At a King County Budget and Fiscal Management meeting, it was discussed that between 11/2021 and the end of 2022, 225 youth consented to the program, 136 declined and 85 were in the process. Additional data was shared that indicated a sharp rise in violent crime across King County.


Nonprofits and grants, backed by wealthy donors, surge as alternatives to jail referrals amid rising crime. Funds funnel into umbrella organizations overseeing nonprofits as profits grow.

Restorative Community Pathways gives money to 8 nonprofits to prevent youth and gun violence and to keep juveniles out of the court system and jail. Some of this money goes to an organization called RVC which provides operations support, capacity building and community impact fellowship. This flow of money from government directly to an umbrella organization that is making large profits over time while seeing little impact in our communities raises grave concerns. Values-aligned funders of RVC appear to have a conflict of interest.


Local ARPA Funded Grant Recipients for Youth Programming

At the city level, additional funds were directed to the following programs via federally funded ARPA funds. It is unclear how these programs can be accessed by the community and if these programs will work to continue dismantling and unravling systems of justice for victims of violent crime.

A representative from one of the programs had previously spoken out at a school board meeting dismissing violence in the schools and the fear it creates. This was in response to public comments about guns being brought to school and dangerous fights and threats. Normalizing violence was an issue that was previously brought up in the City of FW domestic violence meeting as a survival technique. It was noted to be a dysfunctional response to violence. Recognizing the dysfunction and setting safety boundaries is crucial and required by law to create a safe learning environment for all. Teaching our young people that violence isn't normal and acknowledging their feelings is essential.


Expansion of Grant Programs Across the Region as Violence Escalates

A new Washington State Department of Commerce Office of Firearms Safety and Violence Prevention and Healthy Youth and Violence Prevention Intiative grant is now focused on the South King County as a region with 18 award recipients.


Reporting of Violent Crimes to NIBRS

Community members raised concerns about crime data accuracy with this problem continuing since it was brought to the attention of the city. The reporting is often based on local prosecution standards instead of accurate coding according to FBI standards which falsely justifies more diversions.


Furthermore, Federal Way has been praised on record for the greatest decline in arrests in all the cities of King County which is not to be confused with actual crime committed as reported and based on evidence.


Policies are now in place at the state level that inhibit the ability for our police to pursue, arrest and interview criminals. Some of these policies will be reversed soon and this will help immensely! Policies that inhibit policing leads to more crime which makes it more difficult for police to work preventatively and respond to calls, especially when staffing is low. What we have as a result of this is an escalation of crime and violence in communities and the data is not reflecting this.


Call To Action

We must hold individuals accountable for the crimes they commit within our community, without shielding them from the consequences of their actions. Full accountability is crucial. Consequences, including jail time when necessary, are essential to protect the public from further harm while also providing support for individuals to address underlying issues. Repeat offenders must face extended sentences to safeguard the community.

Identifying and addressing gaps in community services is necessary. Whether it's enhancing drug prevention and treatment programs, improving child protective services and foster care systems or expanding support groups, we need better allocation of resources. Comprehensive data collection and communication between systems are vital for informed policy changes and effective implementation.

We need to acknowledge that harm reduction strategies are not working. We can take an assertive approach with individuals causing harm in the communities and within their families while still helping them to maintain their dignity. We need to accurately measure harm caused to communities to guide policy.

Government oversight of grant funding, particularly when distributed to subcontractors or donated from large organizations with potential conflict of interest, is a essential. Local nonprofits must increase transparency about their services and referral options for the community. Government entities such as Best Starts for Kids, the Department of Commerce should provide transparent data to ensure efficient coordination of services and funding across different providers while addressing overlap and other issues that invalidate the data.

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