By Ken Hamilton
The justice system is broken.
Black American youth are five times more likely to become incarcerated and institutionalized by the age of eighteen than their White American neighbors. Black American youth make up six percent of the King County population but twenty-one percent of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration’s inmate population. Three out of five youth serving time have unaddressed, unresolved, or ignored mental health issues and two-thirds are battling some kind of substance addiction. LGBTQ youth enter the system as a direct result of their lack of support within the community only to face further discrimination on the inside.
The justice system is broken.
It just doesn’t work.
Nine of ten young women who are incarcerated experienced some form of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or otherwise) before entering the juvenile justice system and almost half are beaten in jail.
Forty percent of female youth in juvenile detention are raped.
A third of the total youth inmate population is the product of a bankrupt foster care system.
Racially targeted policing is real and officers of the law often face little to no consequence for their blatantly discriminatory actions – lawyers representing the SPD and City of Seattle are on the road to having the case of Shandy Cobaine (“I’m going to beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you.”) thrown out on the grounds that the officer was just using a racial epithet to control a suspect while he was being detained pending an investigation of his reasons for being a person of color out in public. City lawyers cited the fact that Cobaine’s horrifying threats had “no appreciable offensive effect.”
Whatever that means.
In the face of devastating cut-backs, understaffed, and defunded social welfare non-profits losing even more of their budget, and a twelve percent tuition increase for students of Seattle Central next year, the King County Government is putting a ballot measure on an upcoming ticket asking voters if they will approve a $200 million levy to be placed on their property taxes to raise money to finance the construction of new Juvenile Detention Center on 12th and Alder.
Essentially, the measure would finance the destruction of the old JRA and the construction of the new one, which would house more criminalized youth in theoretically better conditions. The problem is that it keeps pumping money into a system that doesn’t do anything but keep youth excluded from their communities.
There is a bright side to this story thankfully, and that is that it can be stopped. On August 7, 2012 King County voters will have the chance to make their collective voice heard when we are asked to vote. Suffice to say, the public doesn’t have many options other than that at this point. During a community-council dialogue with members of the community and King County Council, representatives of the county left the meeting after just twenty minutes of the scheduled two-hour conversation.
Apparently, they don’t care what the people have to say about their morally bankrupt policy making.
Dismantling an outdated, obsolete jailhouse is one thing, but to approve the construction of a perpetuation of a system that has proven to be bust, racist, and hetero-centrist is another one completely. Incarceration has proven ineffective time and time again, and any inmate can attest to that. The criminalization of an entire generation is not the answer to society’s problems, why can’t we ask our government to spend a tenth of that money on investing in the dilapidated and gentrified Central District neighborhood? Or Rainier Beach, Holly Park, Beacon Hill?
Why not a new community center for the South End?
Why not options? Why not opportunities?
Why not community?
Because they stand to make an outrageous amount of money, of course.
Standing proudly alongside the brand-new JRA right in the middle of the CD will be privately developed, but publically paid for, condominiums and retail outlets. King County is no fan of waste, and extra space on a Juvenile Rehabilitation campus isn’t an exception. But it’s time to redefine waste.
Waste is a cyclical, self-perpetuating pipeline of discriminatory abuse perpetuated by publically-funded officials and organizations.
Waste is teaching youth that they are no more valuable than the schools we let them drop-out of.
Waste is marginalizing and alienating entire communities from high school and college education.
Waste is calling the police when our neighborhoods are having problems.
Waste is the criminalization of a generation.
“When I was inside, I watched someone die and I realized, this shit is real,” one speaker said today, during a community meeting that took place at Washington Hall, across the street from the dilapidated JRA that stands on 12th and Alder now. “I know I did my crime, but my rehabilitation came from within. Not from shackles. Not from cages.”
The systemic incarceration of youth destroys families and closes doors. Financial aid from the Federal Government is not available to felons, or anyone convicted of a drug crime, effectively destroying their ability to access higher education if they don’t have the private funds to finance it themselves.
But the community is organizing. Today, a group of about one hundred and fifty people gathered at Washington Hall in the CD to discuss our options as a community. Step one is obvious, get involved. Another community forum is happening June 23 at Life Enrichment Bookstore in Columbia City from 4 PM – 7 PM. Step two is easy, listen. And talk.
Be a part of a community that cares about you as much as you care about it. Step three is whatever you determine it is, and somewhere in there, please, please, please vote on August 7 2012 to put down this disgusting misuse of public funds.
After the community panel came to an end, there was a demonstration of solidarity with youth on the inside of the facility a block away. Demonstrators banged on pots and pans, shouted, chanted, sang, played drums and a number of other things to create a commotion that could be heard from within the bleak walls of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility.
“Capitalism is eating us and itself alive,” a Seattle teacher said sadly as the demonstrations came to an end. “At this point, imagining a world free of Capitalism isn’t Utopian, it’s just practical.”