So you get the call: ‘Your child has been accused of a crime. Go to Juvie,’” said Superior Court Judge Patricia Clark when briefing the Metropolitan King County Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee on April 3 about why the county should construct a new Children and Family Justice Center. “These are, by and large, young families — many of whom are dealing with issues of poverty, homelessness, lack of private transportation and being in crisis. Many of them arrive with other small children in tow.”
The current juvenile justice center — the Alder facility, at 12th Avenue and Alder Street — was mostly built and renovated in 1972 and is in terrible condition, according to staff and parents.
The facility’s electrical, heating and cooling systems are deemed beyond repair, since repairs would cost more than $20 million. The facility is overcrowded, does not meet modern safety-design standards and has no private meeting areas for attorneys and caseworkers to discuss sensitive issues with children and families, according to the county.
On March 1, a bipartisan coalition of council members proposed a nine-year property-tax levy of 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which would raise approximately $200 million for construction of the new Children and Family Justice Center. If approved by the council, the proposal would be placed on the August ballot for voter approval. The cost to the median homeowner in King County would cost less than $25 per year, according to the county.
The Alder facility is King County’s central facility for court cases involving children: juvenile offender cases, child abandonment, abuse and neglect cases and cases involving runaways. The facility provides all the juvenile justice needs of central and northern King County. Residents of southern King County are referred to local juvenile justice venues, except for youths who need detention — they are serviced at the Alder facility, as well.
Approximately 900 people access the facility daily, including more than 300 staff members. The detention facility houses an average of 70 youths per day.
The ballot measure would fund 10 new courtrooms, replace the detention facility and provide more parking stalls. It is estimated that the facility would eliminate nine staff positions, given its modern and more efficient design.
The levy would not cover operational costs.
The county would receive further revenue for the project by selling unneeded land related to the current building.
The new facility would take seven years to construct in the current location.
“All services and detained youths will remain in the [Alder facility] until the [new] Children and Family Justice Center is complete,” said Jennifer Albright, project and program manager at the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. “We anticipate minimal disruption to operations during the construction.”
Replacement of the center has been on the King County’s highest-priority capitol project since 2008. According to Albright, the project’s tardiness was due to the extended amount of time the county needed to come up with viable operational, facility and financial planning.
The detention department is unaware of any opposition to the proposal.
“If I could describe juvie, it is akin to an emergency room,” Clark told the four present council members. “The beeping, the noises going off, people giving you instructions of what’s next. We have multiple loudspeakers calling cases into multiple different courtrooms, all overlapping. We have limited space for private conversations. We put up some walls and doors, but you walk past those walls and doors and you hear everything on the other side.
“The building was not designed to foster security or reduce tension you need to keep families safe,” she said.
The tap water at the Alder Facility is brown, according to Clark and other testifiers.
“Families can’t get much water here,” the judge reported. “And we lost our ATM machine, which means our families have to walk four blocks to even access a cash machine. What’s happening to our families in this building is really, really disturbing.”
Council members also heard testimony about the failed heating system: how people constantly are too cold then too hot, causing discomfort.
“In the winter time, especially, it could be very, very cold in the housing units, and we have to supply extra blankets so the kids could be warm at night,” said Claudia Balducci, director of the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention
“The facility is wet inside,” she continued. “There are many places where water leaks through. This is because the outer windows that were built onto the courtyard were used from interior spaces, so they don’t seal properly.”
Sgt. Abigail Steele, who works in juvenile detention, said the facility poses public-safety hazards. People constantly come in and out of the building; as such, it is difficult for security to keep track of who everyone is, she said.
Steele also said that, at times, juveniles
need to pass adult offenders when being transported to and from courts.
At the end of the briefing, Metropolitan King County Councilmember Julia Patterson urged her fellow council members to approve the measure.
“We have to vote for this: There is no excuse not to, and we should advocate for it and support it,” Patterson said. “But I just hope in that, in the near future, before too much more time goes by, that we have an opportunity to vote for another ballot measure that invests in prevention.”