I am committed to providing community-based programs and restorative justice to divert as many juveniles as appropriate away from the criminal justice system. I believe it is important to focus on rehabilitating and providing supports to young people whose behaviors would otherwise keep them cycling in-and-out of the criminal justice system.
In the last ten years, my office has reduced the number of criminal charges filed against juveniles from nearly 8,000 a year down to around 1,600. Over the last two decades, the county has gone from having roughly 200 juveniles in detention to about 50 at any given time.
We have made this progress by developing community-led programs. In 2011, my office partnered with community leaders and developed the Choose 180 Program to divert youth out of the criminal justice system. Since the program began in 2011, 400 youths per year are given the opportunity to attend Saturday workshops to engage with community leaders and to recognize the causes of their behavior. Before this program, these youth would have gone directly into the juvenile justice system, but now they have a chance to chart a more productive future.
In cooperation with the King County Superior Court and the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, we have been able to create the Family Intervention and Restorative Services (FIRS) program. This program allows families, where juveniles are accused of engaging in domestic violence against parents or sibilings (which makes up roughly 30% of juvenile crime) the option to participate in FIRS instead of having the juvenile charged with a crime. The FIRS program offers youth an important cooling down period at a non-secure respite facility and offers families help through the County’s nationally recognized “Step Up” program. This program teaches youth and families constructive skills to address conflict and avoid violence in the future. By teaching the right communication and anger management skills for a family to live peacefully, this program provides better outcomes for the whole family.
In recent years, as we have learned more about the cognitive development of youth. The science and understanding relating to Adolescent Brain Development supports an approach for juveniles that focuses on diversion, rehabilitation programs, and community connections as the keys to a more effective juvenile justice system. I have supported changes to juvenile law such as the legislation that Governor Jay Inslee signed in April of 2016, which reduced the number of crimes that send juveniles straight into the adult criminal justice system. It also extended juvenile jurisdiction to the age of 25 for certain crimes so that juveniles who are detained for their actions can remain in a juvenile, rather than an adult, facility. Both of these legislative changes help juveniles avoid adult criminal convictions.
I have also stood behind the County’s use of Peacemaking Circles as an effective restorative justice program. I believe that youth can significantly benefit from restorative justice and self-reflective time with community leaders, family members, associates of the victim, and a court judge. These diversion programs have been effective in improving public safety and providing juveniles with the right tools to develop into productive members of our society.