Due to widespread community support at a King County Law Justice, Health and Human Services Committee meeting, and on a 5-1 vote, King County will keep moving forward with the new Restorative Community Pathways program despite protests from four suburban mayors who believe the program may be too lenient on some youthful offenders.
Only King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn voted to pause the program, while all other committee members voted to continue the program. Many citizens have supported King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg by showing up at local city council meetings to talk in support of the program and how it helped them.
Many were people of color. Among those supporting the program are Cynthia Ricks-Maccotan, who works for youth violence prevention under Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Federal Way, who in rebutting the mayors, said those are the areas that have been disproportionately more punitive for youth of color.
The program’s intent is to divert juveniles from the legal system into a rehabilitative program where first-time non-violent offenders work with nonprofit community accountability groups including the victim, who will decide the best way to gain accountability from the offender.
The program was originally included as a small part of a larger county two-year budget in 2020. In December 2021, shortly after the program’s implementation in November, four mayor (Nancy Backus of Auburn, Dana Ralph of Kent, Armondo Pavone of Renton, and Jim Ferrell of Federal Way) issued a statement asking for the program to be paused. They were alarmed to learn that some felonies, such as bringing a gun to school, might be eligible for the program. Also, crime has increased in many suburban cities, putting more pressure on the mayors.
Karen Pillar, director of policy for youth legal services, cited statistics from the last time the state studied recidivism rates for incarcerated youth. She said 50% of incarcerated youth end up returning to the criminal justice system. She argued that RCP was designed to better address and rehabilitate behaviors and do so better than the court system. The staff in the prosecutor’s office will decide which groups to work with from those that are referred to the program.
So far, the most common offense is fourth degree assault for fights at school. As of the county committee meeting on March 1, only two referrals to the program have involved possession of firearms. The RCP gets the person support right away. If the youth goes through the standard procedure of filing charges and waiting for a trial for several months, then are found guilty, they then have a record. However, if the youth can get the support right away by working with accountability groups, time is saved and possibly that youth can do something positive with their life.
As to the politics, Ferrell is running for prosecutor and says he favors diversion programs, but if he wins the prosecutor position, advocates for RCP need to watch how he treats this program. Will he support it or shelve it? Also, two members of the Renton City Council took a different position than Renton’s mayor as councilmembers Kim-Khanh Van and Carmen Rivera expressed their view that the region needs more holistic approaches from the court, and they favor a rehabilitative approach. Rivera said that the South King County mayors who objected to RCP do not understand the methodology of restorative justice’s effectiveness, and said leaders should listen to the first-hand experience and experts who are involved with this program.
Early in my career, I worked at the Shelton Correction Center. Incarceration is not the environment where offenders learn rehabilitation. They need professional assistance to understand their responsibility to friends, family and the victim. Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has a history of trying to help rehabilitate those who are willing. This is a good program and should be continued. Let’s hope the next prosecutor shows the same leadership as Satterberg.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact email@example.com.