Cells in the current King County Juvenile Detention Center. Photo by Casey Jaywork

City Council Passes Bill to Allow Activists to Appeal New Youth Jail

The bill fixes a technical error that accidentally exempted the youth jail project from administrative challenge.

The Seattle City Council passed a bill sponsored by Councilmember Mike O’Brien that allows the city hearing examiner to consider an appeal against the planned King County Children and Family Justice Center, aka the new youth jail. If the bill is signed by Mayor Ed Murray, it would give opponents of the controversial project one final opportunity to stop it.

The controversy over the CFJC, which would replace an older facility, began in 2012 when county voters approved $210 million in taxes to pay for it. Ever since, anti-incarceration activists like mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver have struggled to avert or delay the project, which they say perpetuates mass incarceration. Supporters say that on the contrary, the CFJC is designed as a rehabilitative replacement to the county’s current, aging juvy. Opponents were counting on an appeal by Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) to the Hearing Examiner as their last real chance to derail the project. But in March, the Hearing Examiner’s office decided that it did not have the authority to consider the appeal due to a technical error in the City Council’s original legislation approving the project.

Everyone on the council was in agreement that the original legislation was in error, and should have allowed an appeal. Yet Tuesday’s debate was shaped by how various councilmembers felt about the jail itself.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, a former prosecutor, sponsored an amendment to O’Brien’s bill that would have effectively gutted it by preventing it from applying retroactively. While the bill would “normally fly through the Council because it’s fixing a mistake,” Bagshaw told O’Brien at this morning’s council briefing, she supports the CFJC and therefore opposes anything that might delay or derail it. “The impact on what King County is trying to do would be profound,” she said of current appeal efforts, and could “unravel 14 years of work.” Tim Burgess, a former police officer, seconded the amendment, but the remaining five councilmembers—Lisa Herbold, Rob Johnson, Kshama Sawant, O’Brien and Council President Bruce Harrell—voted against it. (Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Debora Juarez were absent.) After Bagshaw’s amendment failed, the vote on O’Brien’s bill broke down by the same 5-2 split.

A spokesperson says Mayor Ed Murray will sign the bill, though he could veto it since it was not approved by at least two-thirds of the total council (that is, by six votes). Murray asked the county in a letter this January to “take a second look” at the design of the building.

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This post has been updated.

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