That’s the goal for Pam Jones, Director of King County’s Juvenile Division, who oversees the operation of the Juvenile Detention Center at 12th Avenue and East Alder Street in Seattle.
Jones, who has been with King County for over 30 years, has played a key role in the County’s work to bring down the number of youth in detention. In the late-1990s, the average daily population was 198, peaking at times at well over 200. The existing facility can house up to 212 youth.
Over the last two decades, the County’s criminal justice agencies and community partners have worked together to reduce the number of youth in detention, with the average daily population falling to 51 in 2016.
This reduction results from a change in thinking that includes Restorative Justice and Trauma-Informed Practices, and recognizing that the brain is not fully developed in adolescents. New programs, including releasing qualified youth to an ”Alternative to Secure Detention” program, reducing the number of filings on youth made by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, offering a diversion program to young people who are arrested due to family domestic violence incidents, and providing alternatives to youth arrested on warrants who miss court dates or other appearance requirements.
“It’s a combination of systems coming together and agencies collaborating to continue to chip at those numbers and continue to reduce the population,” Jones said.
A new Children and Family Justice Center, which was approved by King County voters in 2012, is scheduled to open in 2020, and will replace the aging Youth Services Center, which houses the existing Juvenile Detention Center and Juvenile Court.
The new facility will replace the current juvenile courthouse, which opened in 1972, and replace the existing detention center with a new building able to accommodate up to 112 youth, a reduction from the 212 beds available today.
It will also provide much needed space for programs and services.
“The current building has zero program space for youth,” Jones said. “We have a library and a gym; we don’t have any space that’s separate where the community can come in and do hands-on programming except for empty living halls that we have repurposed because the population has gone down. So when we want to do something fun and innovative with youth we are now just taking them from one living hall to another.”
The new building will include a “program suite” which houses a spiritual center, the gym, two multipurpose rooms and the library.
“Utilizing trauma-informed care design, we’re creating additional space in the program suite for community providers to use. The benefit as I see it for the youth is to feel like they’re going somewhere which makes them feel like, one, they’re a kid, and two, it’s not the same old ‘I’m just moving from one unit to another unit.’”
All of which facilitates Jones’ goal of making the building one that helps the young people who are there feel supported, respected and like kids again.
“A lot of youth, they’re helping support the family; they’re the man of the house or the female of the house, or they take care of their siblings,” Jones said of the youth at the facility. “I just want them to come in and not have those responsibilities and not feel that we’re creating a space that’s going to create more harm for them, but we’re creating a space that’s going to make them feel better about themselves and the services that we’ll provide.”