Seattle City Council Approves New Ordinance to Delay Youth Jail

SEATTLE — After much debate, Seattle City Council approved a new ordinance on May 30 that could further delay the construction of the city’s new Children and Family Detention Center — a project that has been in the works since at least 2012.

This is the latest development in the couple years of opposition after King County voters passed a $210 million levy in 2012 to build a replacement facility for the current youth court and detention center in Seattle. Opponents claim that voters were misled because the ballot title didn’t reference detention. Their objection to incarceration — in a county where black youth are the most likely to be detained — came to the forefront late last year when protestors rallied outside Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s home before the master-use permit decision was made on Dec. 22.

While that master-use permit for the project was approved, the latest issue questions whether a city hearing examiner should have heard an appeal about the design of the new youth jail and courthouse. The Seattle City Council voted 5-2 in favor of the ordinance that states the land-use decision to modify the structure of the youth service center will be appealed to the city hearing examiner.

Despite cheers from the opponents as a result of the ordinance decision, it is still unclear whether the ordinance will actually stop the youth jail from being constructed or if it will simply continue to delay the project, reported King 5, a local news station. The county had originally planned to break ground on the project last year.

Locally based Howard S. Wright, a Balfour Beatty company, is contracted to design and build the facility, which will include a courthouse for juvenile court and dependency court, a juvenile detention space, a 360-stall parking structure and public open areas. The 137,000-square-foot courthouse will feature 10 courtrooms, an increase of three courtrooms and 40,000 square feet compared to the current facility. The 92,000 square feet dedicated to juvenile detention will include 112 beds, which is 100 fewer detention beds than the current 212-bed facility. And 10,200 square feet has been converted to non-detention youth program space due to the reductions in the juvenile detention population.