King County youth jail closure postponed as youth crime rates increase

Crimes committed by kids in King County are rising at a disturbing rate. In 2023, the number of juveniles booked for felonies jumped 89-percent compared to 2022. Those numbers have officials taking a second look at plans to close traditional youth detention facilities in the county.

In 2020, county executive Dow Constantine pledged to close the remaining youth detention units at the Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center by 2025, replacing them with a 24/7 respite facility and secured group homes. However, the Care and Closure Advisory Committee is now recommending they take more time to enhance the secure juvenile detention plan, pushing back their deadline to 2028.

A review of the juvenile felony cases in 2023 showed most of the crimes were car theft and robbery. The rise in criminal activity continues in 2024, including a recent case in Seattle involving two brothers, just 12 and 13-years-old, who stole a woman’s car at gunpoint. 


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Despite the rise in violent crimes committed by teens, the executive’s office said closing youth detention units and expanding community-based alternatives is a solution to help these kids. The advisory committee identified six recommendations as "essential components" of a new system needed to support young people, and promote healing, accountability, and community safety. The recommendations are:

  1. Create, operate, and maintain a 24/7 respite and receiving center where law enforcement will take all youth under 18 years old upon arrest unless they can be released upon entering the center.
  2. Provide very short-term respite housing at the respite and receiving center for youth who cannot go home due to safety reasons.
  3. Provide enhanced immediate supports when youth return home to their families or are placed in kinship care with extended family members.
  4. Create, contract, and provide oversight to a network of diverse community care homes where youth would stay while their court case proceeds if they are unable to go home because of safety concerns.
  5. Strengthen community infrastructure and capacity to ensure all youth have access to and can benefit from culturally relevant, developmentally appropriate, and youth- and family-centered supports that address their identified needs, regardless of whether they are at home, with a relative, or at a community care home.
  6. Ensure the next steps for these recommendations are informed by and centered on input, expertise, and ideas of the community members most directly impacted by the youth legal system.

Standing by his pledge, Constantine wrote in a Facebook post, "Study after study shows that youth incarceration is a system that does not work. The profound racial disparities in the youth criminal legal system are a result of racist realities embedded in many systems, from health care to educational to economic, as well as the legal system itself."

The county executive’s office said this approach to detention is backed by existing models from other jurisdictions across the country, and years of research. Still, King County’s presiding judge questioned if it’s enough security for the teens committing the most violent crimes.

"We want to have that tool of secured detention when it’s appropriate. And so, when we have concerns about public safety, we want to use all the tools at our disposal," said King County Superior Court Judge Ketu Shah.

Those skeptical of closing youth jail said they want to see more ideas that can offer therapeutic environments while still maintaining necessary levels of security.

Selena Taylor lost her only son, Ezra Taylor, to gun violence on September 26, 2021. Six people were shot outside of La Familia Sports Pub and Lounge in Des Moines that night. Ezra, an innocent bystander, was one of three people killed.


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"He was making a difference in the community. He was loving on people and caring for people," said Taylor. "We wanted to continue his legacy of what he started. We wanted to continue to make a difference in the community."

The young life of Taylor’s son was cut short, but through tragedy his family continues his legacy. They started Ezra’s Hands, an outreach program focused on connecting with young people who may be hurting or surrounded by negative temptations. Taylor said some young people they work with don’t have much support at home or at school, and their behavior is commonly a reaction to a deeper root cause.

"A lot of times people tend to label them as bad. But we want to look further into their hurt versus just looking on the outside. Because there’s something going on in the inside of them," said Taylor.

Ezra’s Hands provides life skills, career development, job training, and leadership development to guide young people toward positive resources.

"Yes, they will change by building relationships with them and not throwing them away. Letting them know that there is another side to that hurt," said Taylor. "And with that pain comes purpose. So, if you’re in pain and you’re hurting, we can actually get purpose for you and for your life and you can turn that around for good."