While Illinois is closing two youth prisons as a cost-cutting measure, other states are not. Washington State’s King County recently passed a $210 million renovation and expansion of its youth jail. Undeterred, activists work to halt the jail. In Baltimore, organizing against a youth jail proves that popular disapproval can derail supposedly done deals.
With the number of youth behind bars at an all-time low – dropping 41 percent from 107,000 in 1995 to under 71,000 in 2010 – are more youth jails really necessary? Research has shown that community-based programs that keep youth connected to their families are more likely to succeed than jails or prisons. So when Dede Adhanom learned that King County was proposing to renovate and expand its current youth jail in Seattle’s Central District, she was outraged.
On April 5, 2012, King County Council members held a public meeting at Seattle University to introduce Proposition 1, a $210 million tax levy to renovate the dilapidated King County Youth Services Center to include a youth detention center with 154 dorms as well as ten family courtrooms. “It was at 1 PM. A lot of people can’t make 1 PM meetings unless they work at a job that pays them to be there,” Adhanom noted. Undeterred, she and several others attended. “We shouted them out of there. That they’re having the public meeting at 1 PM shows their intentions.”
That was the first action of the group that became No New Juvie. To counter the Seattle University meeting, the group convened a People’s Forum. “Dede spoke as someone who had been incarcerated. Another person who had been incarcerated as a youth spoke about his experience,” Alex West, another No New Juvie member, recalled in a separate interview. The group held events in Seattle neighborhoods where residents were most affected by incarceration. They organized a Festival of Resistance outside the juvie. “We made posters and patches. We had games. We had a self-defense workshop and a building healthy relationships workshop. We asked, ‘What do we need to make the jail obsolete?'”
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- Youth Incarceration Down in U.S., Colorado (humaneexposures.com)
- California ranks 11th in nation in youth incarceration rate, report shows (mercurynews.com)
- Running Rebels shows value of keeping youths out of jail (jsonline.com)
- Some facts about youth incarceration (indyweek.com)
- Editorial: Praise deserved for lower youth incarceration rate (knoxnews.com)
- Youth incarceration has dropped by 36% in Illinois since 1997 (chiyouthjustice.wordpress.com)