The Road Map to Zero Youth Detention

On July 21, 2020, King County Executive, Dow Constantine, committed to eliminating secure detention for youth in King County by 2025. While the commitment to a specific timeline is new, the work to achieve the goal of Zero Youth Detention began in 2017 when King County Executive, Dow Constantine, announced Public Health – Seattle & King County’s Zero Youth Detention Initiative (ZYD).

Getting to zero requires a collective effort between systems and the community. Together we are working to move fully into restorative, holistic, and community-based alternatives; away from the punitive model of detention. The Road Map to Zero Youth Detention is the County’s strategic plan for not only working to reduce the use of secure detention and electronic home monitoring for youth in King County, but also launched the County on the journey to end it.

What is a “public health approach” to Zero Youth Detention?

When most people think about public health, the juvenile legal system is not the first thing that comes to mind. Historically, across the country, local health jurisdictions have had little involvement with the juvenile legal system. That was also the case in King County. Nevertheless, As ZYD Program Director, Derrick Wheeler-Smith explains, this work is a natural fit for Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSK):

Look at the numbers of young people, particularly Black and Brown young men, whose lives are derailed, uprooted, and cut short by the legal system. If people got sick with a disease at the same rate, and with the same negative impacts, we’d call it an epidemic and we’d want the Public Health Department to take action. That’s the approach we’re taking in King County.

Brain science tells us that adolescence is a period when children often participate in low to high-risk behaviors. This tendency can be exacerbated by personal and historical traumas. PHSKC is leading through a trauma-informed lens. Using this approach, ZYD brings together community and system partners to create evidence-based interventions and supports, promote the positive development of all youth, and ensure the collective response to youth in crisis holds them accountable and restores them on a path to overall well-being.

Research shows that youth have a better chance at a positive adulthood when they don’t interact with the legal system. All children deserve equal opportunity to grow into successful, healthy, and happy adults.

What is the Road Map?

The strategies and actions in the Road Map to Zero Youth Detention respond to the impacts of trauma and adversity in the lives of youth involved in the juvenile legal system and those who have been harmed when a crime occurs. Informed by youth…Read More