In addition to a more humane youth jail, the new Center would have a well-lit lobby. Image via King County website.

EPIC Appeals ‘Youth Jail’ Permit

More than 60 social justice organizations have joined the appeal against the new ‘Justice Center.’

Anti-racist organizers are appealing a construction permit that was recently issued for a planned new youth jail.

On January 4, Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) filed an appeal with the Seattle Hearing Examiner’s office against a Master Use Permit that the Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) recently issued for King County’s planned new $210 million Children and Family Justice Center. The permit is one of the last obstacles to beginning construction on the project.

As we’ve reported, EPIC and other anti-racist groups have been fighting the creation of the youth jail for four years, ever since voters approved funding for the Center. The activists argue that the project amounts to an investment in youth incarceration. Proponents of the project say that the existing jail is decrepit and inhumane, and they point out that all of the jail areas are designed to be convertable to other uses in the future. Under pressure from activists, King County has already cut the number of planned jail beds in half, to 112.

The appeal was filed with the Hearing Examiner’s office, which has the power to overrule SDCI’s decision to permit the project. The appeal characterizes SDCI’s decison to issue the permit as “arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial evidence.” It includes a long and varied list of alleged technical inadequacies: inadequate public notice, inadequate project impact analysis, and even inadequate setbacks from the sidewalk.

Opponents of the youth jail have criticized Seattle Mayor Ed Murray for not stepping in to prevent SDCI from issuing a permit in the first place. Yesterday, mayoral spokesperson Benton Strong issued a press release which read in part, “The Mayor has no legal authority to affect SDCI’s technical permitting decisions. We have been reminded of the dangers of executive interference in permitting decisions and Mayor Murray remains committed to respecting the limits of executive power…

“If the County withdraws its permit application, the City will not defend SDCI’s land use decision in front of the Hearing Examiner. To date, the County has not withdrawn its application. Addressing systemic racial disparities, including those in our criminal justice system, continues to be a priority for Mayor Murray’s administration.”

You can look up the appeal on the Hearing Examiner’s website here. It has links to appeal documents, including the original SDCI permit decision.

Yesterday, EPIC and other groups punctuated their appeal with a protest outside the current youth jail facility:

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