King County executive seeks to redefine criminal justice after announcing plans to close jail

King County Executive Dow Constantine revealed new details surrounding the plan to radically re-define the criminal justice system.

The executive said some jail space for both adults and young people suspected of crimes who present a danger to the public would always be needed, but reform is possible.

The pandemic has forced officials to depopulate the county jail and the youth detention center. Moving forward, the executive’s goal is to keep the currently and historically low populations.

“We need to focus on getting to the root of problems,” Constantine said. “People committing low level crimes are not very responsive to criminal sanctions.”

Jesse Benet with the Public Defender Association says the organization has advocated non-violent misdemeanor cases should not involve jail time.

“I’m hoping funds can be reinvested to help people get better and achieve stability in the community,” he said.

The county’s brand new youth jail is also in Constantine’s cross-hairs, and he plans to eliminate all detention capacity within five years.

For years activists argued against the new facility and urged the executive to do more.  x

Sean Goode from Choose 180 offers diversion programs for those entangled in the criminal justice system. Many who complete the programs have lower recidivism rate than those who don’t, he said.

“How do we put restore someone and re-engage them in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the community around them,” said Goode. “That is the future we’re building together.

King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht declined to immediately comment.

The president of King County Corrections Guild said he felt blindsided by Constantine’s plan. More than 500 corrections officers are members of the union and some worry about job security.