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The 180 Program is a true partnership between the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (PAO) and the community it serves.  The 180 Program is a pre-filing juvenile diversion program designed to keep youth out of the criminal justice system.

Under Washington State law, certain juvenile offenders are eligible to have their cases diverted out of juvenile court and instead have their cases determined by a volunteer Community Accountability Board (CAB) that can require youth to take responsibility for their actions by completing some sort of sanction, such as community service, participating in teen counseling, or getting a drug or alcohol assessment.  

While court-run diversion reaches a number of youth, there are also, on average, 300 eligible youth each year who miss out on this opportunity because they fail to respond to the diversion letter.   Of the youth who miss out on this opportunity, about 40%, on average are African-American, and more than 15%, on average are Latino or Native American.


In addition to the youth who simply fail to respond to the diversion letter, there are many youth who are not eligible for diversion because of their criminal history.

The PAO first launched the 180 Program in 2011 as a pilot project after King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg asked community leaders for help to reach youth in a new way.  Dan recognized that the criminal justice system is not always the most effective tool in addressing complex social issues, including getting at the heart of why juveniles often make poor choices.  

Dan also recognized that to get the answer to that question, it would require a different messenger than “the system” – so, he asked a long-time friend and former public servant, Doug Wheeler for help in convening a group of community leaders who would help design a new program that sent a different message to youth, a message that said, “We care about you.   We believe in you.   We believe you can do better, and we will help you see the path to new choices.”

In July of 2011, the PAO, in partnership with the now nonprofit organization Community Leaders RoundTable of Seattle, launched its first half-day workshop, where youth were invited to participate and hear from volunteer speakers who had dealt with some of the same issues and struggles the youth were dealing with and who had made their own “180” change in direction.  Youth who participated in the workshop did not have charges filed against them.

“We care about you. We believe in you. We believe you can do better, and we will help you see the path to new choices.”

Today, the 180 Program diverts approximately 400 youth each year from the criminal justice system. Saturday half-day workshops are held each month at Seattle University's School of Law. The university loans the space to the 180 Program free of charge. Each of these 400 youth represents a host of costs that are avoided. For example, when 400 youth cannot be located or fail to respond to the diversion letter, each is arrested, charged with a crime, booked into the Youth Service Center, and assigned a public defender to represent them in juvenile court. 

Diverting 400 youth out of our juvenile court system generates considerable financial savings in public defense, detention, and court costs.  However, the immeasurable costs avoided include avoiding the youth's own self-image as a criminal, in handcuffs, in a police car, and booked into detention.  The 180 Program instead returns youth to their community, to hear from respected community leaders and others with criminal justice experience about the consequences of their decisions to participate in crime.
A 2012 evaluation of the 180 Program conducted by the University of Washington found that the program is effective at reaching youth, inspiring them to change, and helping them identify the assets and liabilities in their lives that can help or hinder their desire to change.  The evaluation also revealed that the effects of the 180 Program stayed with youth over time, that the program was effective in changing attitudes and behavior. 

A 2014 evaluation of the 180 Program by the King County Office of Strategy and Budget (PSB) found that the program is more effective than traditional diversion in reducing juvenile recidivism and more effective than traditional diversion in having a positive impact on disproportionate minority contact.

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