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In King County, juvenile justice reform efforts have contributed to a remarkable reduction in the overall numbers of youth involved in the court system and held in detention.

Uniting for Youth (formerly King County Systems Integration Initiative) is a consortium of state and local youth-serving agencies who have come together to examine and improve the coordination and collaboration of services for youth involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems and who may have mental health and educational needs. 


The member agencies of Uniting for Youth are committed to reforming the culture, policies, practices, programs and protocols that currently make up fragmented service systems for youth and families. A key focus of this multi-agency consortium is the link between child maltreatment and juvenile delinquency and that many youth are served simultaneously by both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Furthermore, many of these youth need services and supports from the mental health and educational systems. Given this and the desire for achievement of favorable outcomes for youth involved in these systems, Uniting for Youth was formed in recognition of the fact that child protection and well being are the shared responsibility of many agencies, individuals and institutions in the community.


  • Promote Healthy Communities: Promote the ability of systems to engage and improve youth’s education, health, well-being and futures.
  • Diversity and Youth/Family Engagement: Embrace and value the inclusion of diverse youth, families and agencies in our comprehensive strategy, planning and projects.
  • Multisystem Collaboration, raining and Information Sharing: Identify and create opportunities for professionals in the youth-serving systems to work together effectively and communicate across systems.
  • Data Driven Decision Making: Improve outcomes for multi-system involved children, youth and families through in-system and cross-system data collection and analysis directed towards systems reforms.


For more information, please contact:
Marcus Stubblefield 
Criminal Justice Strategy and Policy Section Manager
Performance, Strategy and Budget


Racial and Ethnic Disparities

Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED) within the criminal justice and child welfare systems have been documented in many jurisdictions around the country, including King County. RED refers to the disproportionately large number of youth of color who come into contact with the justice system.

Statewide Efforts

In 2012 The Washington State Supreme Court Task Force of Race and the Criminal Justice System noted:


"In addition to the federal and state efforts to reduce RED, private funds have been targeted toward reducing RED in Washington for more than 10 years. King County, with the State’s largest minority youth population, has worked purposefully on the RED issue since 1999, initially with the privately funded Building Blocks for Youth Initiative that is now the Hayward Burns Institute. Since 2004, the Annie E. Casey Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) has been funding projects in Washington. Currently there are eight counties receiving JDAI funding and technical assistance. While JDAI’s primary focus is not RED, its goal to ensure that secure detention is used appropriately has resulted in fewer children of color being incarcerated – although minority youth have not benefited at the same rate as white youth. Since 2008, the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative has worked on RED in Washington State as one of its three focus areas. The goals of Models for Change RED work in Washington are ‘to improve data collection where needed, to develop the capacity to collect and analyze detailed RED data regularly at the state and county levels, and to use RED data analyses and other research to identify, implement, and monitor appropriate interventions to reduce disparate treatment and limit the unnecessary penetration of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.’


Despite extensive studies, legislation and privately funded efforts, the relative rate of disproportionate minority contact persists at nearly every stage in the juvenile system."


UW Study


In 2013, the University of Washington (UW) published the results of a statewide study on RED in the juvenile justice system finding that King County had engaged in impressive efforts to address RED. King County Juvenile Court has had a RED workgroup for many years that has helped develop and implement a wide array of RED reduction strategies. Staff understand RED and monitor RED data, several cross-system collaboration efforts are underway, and community engagement and mobilization is a major aspect of RED reduction efforts. The study noted that it would be difficult to provide recommendations for improvement that are not already known to the County.


Measuring Our Progress

Despite this work, and despite a sharply decreasing number of youth in the juvenile justice system over the past decade, RED remains high for some groups, particularly African Americans.


The number of King County initiatives focusing on juvenile justice and at-risk youth and their families is a strong indicator of the commitment to safer communities and seeing youth succeed in their communities. King County Juvenile Court and its partners have been actively engaged in several national reform initiatives, as well as state and local efforts, to improve coordination, provide research-based effective interventions, and reduce costs. These efforts have contributed to the dramatic decrease in the number of youth of all races being held in detention.


The chart below overlays the timelines of key juvenile justice initiatives with filings and the detention population, showing a clear connection with King County’s RED, Disproportionate Minority Contact efforts and a reduction in court involvement for youth of all races.


Reducing racial disparity remains one of King County’s priorities and efforts to address RED are an integral component of the following initiatives and programs.



Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI)

While Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI)  principles were a key element of the Juvenile Justice Operational Master Plan process, it wasn’t until 2004 that King County joined four other counties in Washington state to formally become a JDAI replication site. 


The objectives of the JDAI are to:

  • Reduce the number of children unnecessarily or inappropriately detained
  • Minimize the number of youth who fail to appear in court or reoffend pending adjudication
  • Redirect public funds toward successful reform strategies
  • Improve conditions of confinement


To accomplish these objectives the JDAI focuses on eight core strategies including “Reducing Racial Disparities in Juvenile Detention.”



Washington Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice

King County has actively partnered with the Washington Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice (WA-PCJJ) to reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED). Over the years WA-PCJJ has provided grant funding and technical assistance to support several King County RED efforts including the Community Juvenile Justice Coalition, warrant reduction, expedited case processing and data analysis.


WA-PCJJ has also been instrumental in the support and expansion of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI).  King County provides WA-PCJJ data to meet annual federal reporting requirements to measure racial disparity at key points in the juvenile justice process including disproportionate minority confinement in juvenile detention. 

While all youth have benefited from these changes, not all racial groups have benefited equally.  Efforts to reduce disproportionate minority contact (RED) continue to be a high priority.


One of King County Juvenile Court’s greatest concerns is the disparate impact of the juvenile justice system on African American youth.  From 1998 to 2016, the numbers of African American youth in the justice system declined, but their percentage of total youth at each point increased:


African American youth make up approximately 10 percent of the broader youth population, yet in 2016 they accounted for 41 percent of law enforcement referrals.


The data indicates that disproportionality begins with law enforcement referrals and continues through the system to filings and the detention population.

Black/African American youth experienced a significant upsurge (nearly 21%) in total referrals from law enforcement in 2014 compared to the previous year.  While referrals fell 10 percent between 2015 and 2014, African American youth continue to be referred by law enforcement in higher numbers than their White counterparts, while still comprising a much smaller percent of the total youth population.



In 2014, for the first time, the total number of law enforcement referrals for African American youth (1854) was higher than the number of law enforcement referrals for White youth (1523).

Felony law enforcement referral trends are especially concerning.  In 2014 African American youth had 579 felony referrals, compared to 308 for Caucasian youth.  Felony referrals are not eligible for diversion and contributed to a disproportionate increase in filings and detention population. 

In 2016, African American youth accounted for 48 percent of admissions to secure detention on person felony offenses and 59 percent of felony property offenses, compared to 14 percent and 9 percent respectively for Caucasian youth.

However, preliminary findings from the first quarter of 2017 show African American and Caucasian youth receiving a similar number of referrals from law enforcement (357 and 364, respectively). The average number of youth in secure detention is 32 percent less than the first quarter of 2016, with fourteen fewer African American youth in detention per day, although they still represent the majority (43%) of all youth detained.

A system-wide response is needed to tackle disproportionality

Disproportionality is an unacceptable problem in our juvenile justice system that must be addressed with a system-wide effort that includes law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, schools, the courts, detention and the community.

The juvenile justice system is working on several new programs that would divert youth from formal processing. While in 2015 and 2016 youth of color represented a larger portion of the referrals to diversion (60 percent) than Caucasian youth (40 percent), youth of color historically have had lower engagement and success rates in diversion programs. More work is needed to explain these trends.


In 2014, the Prosecutor’s 180 diversion program was expanded to include a post-filing option that gives youth an additional opportunity to have their case dismissed.


In 2015, restorative practices and principles were implemented in the form of restorative mediation through the alternative dispute resolution program and through peace circles. 

Family Intervention and Restorative Services (FIRS) is a new approach for the handling of youth family violence. Initially led by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, FIRS is a partnership made up of King County Superior Court, the Department of Public Defense, the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, the Department of Judicial Administration, the Prosecuting Attorney, and the City of Seattle. The long standing model for handling of juvenile domestic violence was not working.  Formal case processing introduced an adversarial relationship to the family that, often times, did not result in appropriate services for the family. Families were not receiving a response when they needed it most – at the time of crisis. In FIRS, all cases are carefully staffed and triaged for the appropriate interventions and services to be offered. Families complete a safety plan that assists them in dealing with future incidents and youth are offered services and enter into a FIRS agreement to avoid formal court processing. Juvenile family violence referrals made up 1/3 of new bookings into Juvenile Detention, historically. Since the FIRS respite center opened on July 1, 2016, the number of bookings into secure detention has decreased and more families have been offered intervention services at the time of crisis.  

King County partners with stakeholders and communities to address disproportionality in the Juvenile Justice System

Since 1998, King County has implemented many strategies to reduce disproportionality. As new ideas are proposed and piloted, the County measures outcomes and advocates for obtaining resources to continue refining practices to reduce disparity. The following is a list of key King County efforts to understand and mitigate RED:

  • Community EngagementUniting for Youth (formerly the King County Systems Integration Initiative) is building support for reform efforts by engaging community agencies and representatives through focus groups, public meetings/events, and recruiting non-traditional partners to participate on committees.  Emphasis is placed on engaging communities of color. Both adult and youth Community Advisory Boards were convened in 2010. Members of the adult boards are participating in the Uniting for Youth Executive Steering Committee meetings.
  • Cultural Competency Initiative – Juvenile Court completed a cultural competence self-assessment in 2004.  The Strategic Diversity Committee was convened and launched the Cultural Competency Initiative in 2008 which generated action plans for each program/unit. Key accomplishments include the “Undoing Institutional Racism” training in 2010 for all Juvenile Court managers, supervisors and Diversity Committee members. A current focus of the initiative is providing on-going education for court staff and ensuring action plans are linked to reducing racial disparity.
  • Juvenile Justice 101 Program – Since November 2010 King County Juvenile Court has reached out to parents of court involved youth through the Juvenile Justice 101 program. The program provides justice-involved families information about the juvenile court process as well as community resources through a peer-support model. Expansion of the community outreach component of the program is described under “Community and Parent Partnerships”.
  • Alternatives to Secure Detention (ASD) – In addition to efforts to maintain and expand participation in ASD, King County and its partners added new program options including a weekend reporting program and increased participation in existing alternative to secure detention programs.
  • Detention Intake Criteria – King County implemented standardized criteria and a telephone screening process to keep low-risk youth out of detention in 1999. Criteria was reviewed periodically and updated, including restructuring and streamlining the criteria in 2008. A comprehensive evaluation of the criteria including outcomes by race and gender was completed in 2010.
  • Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI) – In 2004, King County implemented a structured decision-making tool to generate a placement recommendation (release, ASD eligible, secure detention) for the court at the first hearing for detained youth. After a comprehensive evaluation of the tool, a revised version was implemented in 2007. In 2016, a re-evaluation of the DRAI was completed by an external evaluator.  
  • Warrant Reminder Calls – Using telephone calls and texting, youth and families are contacted a few days before scheduled arraignment hearings to remind them to attend court and avoid warrants.
  • 2-Tier Warrants – In 2008, a process was implemented where youth with an eligible warrant can have their court hearing rescheduled and avoid detention. The Tier 2 eligible offense list was expanded in 2016. 
  • Warrant Prevention Pilot Project – A grant funded pilot project designed to identify and connect youth who may fail to appear at court to a community provider for support was conducted from January 2010 through March 2011. The pilot showed promising results and several areas for improvement. The court has contracted with the YMCA Alive and Free Outreach Network to locate youth and provide supports to help them get to court. Youth of color in South King County were prioritized. Grant funds allowed the program to continue the program through 2015.
  • Law Enforcement Pre-Booking Placement Option – Implemented in April 2013, the goal of this pilot project is to provide Law Enforcement with a new placement option for youth under the age of 16 involved in family conflict utilizing open group care beds at YouthSource contracted through DAJD’s Alterative to Secure Detention program.
  • Detention School Transition – Seattle School District youth who spent only a day or two in detention were faced with the challenging process of getting re-enrolled in their home school.   The practice was disproportionately affecting youth of color and youth already struggling with school. The RED Workgroup collaborated with the Interagency School principle to explore the issue and changes were made in November 2011 to detention school enrollment practices to improve transitions for detained youth.   Other efforts, briefly described under “Working with Schools” are underway to address disparate disciplinary practices that may contribute to higher rates of involvement in the juvenile justice system or keep justice involved youth out of school.
  • Juvenile Drug Court – Implemented in 1999 to reduce recidivism and the impact of substance abuse on youth and their families, the program recently expanded, adding staff and capacity to serve more youth and hold court hearings in South King County. A 2007 evaluation found that minority youth who participated in the program had substantially lower recidivism rates than their counterparts in the comparison group. In 2016, a follow-up outcome evaluation was conducted to determine if drug court participants fared differently than their matched comparison group or than those referred to drug court but never participated. While there no main effects across groups, Drug Court Graduates, over time, had significantly lower rates of recidivism than Non-Graduates and the Comparison youth.   Additionally, for those that reoffended, the average length of time to the first conviction was considerably longer at each follow-up period for the Drug Court Participant youth.
  • Evidence-Based Programs – Juvenile Court implemented four treatment programs with a track record for reducing recidivism.  In 2011, there was capacity to serve about 310 high and moderate risk youth on probation. An evidence-based program for low-risk offenders was implemented in 2010 with capacity to serve 170 youth annually. Emphasis is placed on tracking the success of minority youth and ensuring the services are culturally competent. In 2016, a follow-up outcome evaluation was conducted to determine if drug court participants fared differently than their matched comparison group or than those referred to drug court but never participated.  While there no main effects across groups, Drug Court Graduates, over time, had significantly lower rates of recidivism than Non-Graduates and the Comparison youth.   Additionally, for those that reoffended, the average length of time to the first conviction was considerably longer at each follow-up period for the Drug Court Participant youth.
  • Youth Employment Programs – King County and its partners collaborated to establish partnerships with minority business leaders to increase employment opportunities for court-involved minority youth.
  • Felony Drug Offender Study – A study completed in 2007 showed significant overrepresentation of African American youth in detention on felony drug offenses.  A detailed case file review of felony drug offenders in detention in 2009 generated recommendations for process improvements. The percentage of the secure detention population held on felony drug offenses has dropped from 5.3% in 2007 to less than 1.5% in 2014.
  • Probation Violation Study – King County collaborated with the University of California, Irvine to conduct a study of RED in probation violations sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation. A knowledge brief based on the study was released in 2012 which indicated they found no clear pattern of systematic discrimination for juveniles on probation. 
  • Decision Point Analysis – A detailed analysis of each key decision point in the court process is undertaken with regularity to identify changes to policy and practice that will reduce racial disparity.
  • Courts Catalyzing Change – The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and Casey Family Programs are partnering with Superior Court to examine and reduce disparity in the dependency system. One strategy implemented in 2010 is a bench card for judicial officers to use as a tool to raise awareness and reduce disparity.
  • Indian Child Welfare Act – Through the Model Dependency Courts Initiative, the Juvenile Court has partnered with the Administrative Office of the Courts and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, to focus on increasing compliance with Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) requirements.  A statewide ICWA summit was held in October 2012.  Model Court has undertaken an ICWA Compliance – Court Readiness and Implementation Continuum assessment with assistance from NCFJCJ as a 2012-2013 improvement strategy[RK4] [EH5] .
  • Family Treatment Court (FTC) – An alternative to regular dependency court, FTC is designed to improve the safety and well-being of children in the dependency system by providing parents access to drug and alcohol treatment, judicial monitoring of their sobriety and individualized services to support the entire family.  The program began in August 2004.  An evaluation completed by the University of Washington School Of Medicine in 2011 showed that FTC children were more likely to be permanently reunified with their parent and spent less time in out-of-home placements in the child welfare system than their counterparts in a comparison group.  Additionally, children and families of color in the FTC had more positive outcomes than families of color in the comparison group.
  • Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer Minority Recruitment – Efforts to recruit minority CASA volunteers, particularly African American volunteers, have been ongoing. Since 2004, the local CASA program has secured four different grants through the National CASA Association to support these efforts including funds to hire a part-time recruiter and expand advertising specifically targeting communities of color.  In 2012, Dependency CASA joined forces with the Courts and Community Committee to recruit diverse volunteers.  They have held two special community recruitment events, visited numerous churches and have reached out to the specialty bar associations.  This effort is ongoing and articles highlighting the campaign were published in the Seattle Times and the Renton Reporter.
  • Parent to Parent Program – Early engagement in the dependency process is critical for improving the chance of reunification.  This may be particularly difficult for some minority families; the Parent to Parent Program assists families by providing peer parents who are approachable and a culturally relevant connection to the dependency process.

King County serves approximately 338,000 youth through almost 100 programs ranging from education and youth development to community and mental health services.


Many of these programs are specifically designed for youth involved in or at high risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system. The primary goal of these programs is to reduce over-representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system and to provide the conditions so youth can make responsible choices.


As an example, starting in the fall of 2011, King County began funding a set of programs in response to gang activity in south King County. Besides focusing on law enforcement and intervention (helping youth immediately at risk of gang involvement), the funding aimed at prevention – "up-stream" investments to reduce the risk of gang involvement.


The South King County Gang Intervention Program provides education, employment and violence prevention and intervention services to youth with moderate-to-high risk assessment scores and/or gang involvement in order.


The Avanza program, located at New Start High School in Burien, is an early intervention program to address the high rate of Latino/Latina youth dropping out of school and prevent gang involvement.


Data show that the Gang Intervention Program has served 147 youth in south King County since the program began. Of those youth, 82 percent are youth of color, and 78 percent are young men.


At enrollment, 97 percent were educationally at-risk and 96 percent were unemployed. For the youth completing the program, 84 percent increased their employability by completing a work experience, completing job readiness training and/ or completing their high school credential. Of the youth currently active in the program, 94 percent are in school or have employment.


Diversion - Partnership for Youth Justice

Many juveniles referred to juvenile court are first or second time offenders who commit offenses such as shoplifting, malicious mischief, or possession of alcohol.  These youth may be eligible for an alternative to formal court processing known as "diversion."  Diversion is provided by the court's "Partnership for Youth Justice" program.  After the prosecutor reviews the case and determines that the youth is eligible for diversion, the case is referred to the program.  If both the youth and the program agree to diversion, the youth meets with a Community Accountability Board (CAB) made up of volunteers from the community or other community agency.  The CAB and the youth enter into a written agreement about what consequences will be imposed for the youth's behavior.  The agreement may include restitution to the victim, community restitution work (i.e. community service), a fine, counseling, informational or educational classes, and other options.  State law defines the types and extent of consequences that that may be imposed.  If the youth does not want to participate in diversion or fails to comply with the agreement, the case is referred back to the prosecutor for filing of charges.


Mentoring Changing Lives  

The 4C Coalition Mentor Program is collaboration between a collective of churches in the Rainier Valley and the King County Superior Court.


This program matches youth who are involved in the King County Superior Court system with positive role models from their community. The mentor helps the youth realize alternatives to destructive behavior while participating in positive one-on-one activities. The mentor works with the court and an advocacy team assigned to the youth to help overcome his or her personal challenges.


Throughout the year, the mentoring program provides workshops and activities for project participants. The 4C Coalition also reaches out to parents, teachers, criminal justice professionals and others who have contact with our youth. Participants are recognized at an annual dinner.


The 4C Coalition has sponsored annual mentoring Sundays within a dozen local churches and participates in community festivals to recruit mentors. Mentors are people from throughout our community who want to make a positive difference in a young person's life.


All of the mentors are 21 and older and screened through a Washington State Patrol background check. Mentors attend six hours of training before being matched with a youth and must attend ongoing bi-monthly training. Mentors stay in contact with their mentee weekly, doing such things as talking by phone, taking a walk, having dinner together, attending a sporting event or working on homework. Mentors make a minimum one-year commitment to the program and youth.


The 4C Coalition Mentor Program is open to youth who are on probation and have been assessed as moderate or high-risk to re-offend and must be a minimum of four to six months from completing probation.


The program model that the 4C Coalition adheres to has received recognition from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy as a model for a reduction in crime and cost to taxpayers in Washington State. In 2006, the United Way of King County named a 4C Coalition volunteer as its Outstanding Mentor of the Year.


Advocacy Teams

An Advocacy Team is a group of people who come together to support a multi-system involved youth and his or her family. Advocacy Team Coordination has shown promising effectiveness in reducing legal involvement, improving school and family functioning, and reducing the number of housing transitions.


Advocacy Team Coordination considers the family as a whole and utilizes a team approach to develop strategies that build upon the strengths of the youth, the family, and the community. The goal is to increase the youth and family resources to help themselves and rely less on treatment and court professionals. The teams are family-centered, meaning the family defines what is important and prioritizes needs and services. Because an Advocacy Team is comprised of individuals outside of the court system, it continues providing support even after court involvement ends.


Advocacy Teams frequently are used to support youth enrolled in the Juvenile Drug Court.


King County Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Task Force 

The mission of the King County CSEC Task Force is to ensure the safety and support of commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) and to prevent further exploitation. Trainings are free and are available to individuals who may come in contact with sexually exploited children.


In King County, law enforcement, service providers, school personnel, or anyone who comes in contact with an exploited child can contact a Community Advocate for 24/7 referrals and services for youth and young adults aged 12-24. The Community Advocate program is operated through the Bridge Collaborative, a regional response to sexually exploited youth and young adults operated through a partnership with YouthCare, Friends of Youth, and Auburn Youth Resources.

Funding for advocates, coordination, and training comes from a combination of federal, state, and local governments and private nonprofits. Funding sources include, but are not limited to, King County, the City of Seattle, and Stolen Youth.



In 1998, King County leaders concerned about racial disproportionality in the juvenile justice system decided to develop a program that would address what they saw as a troubling trend. A pilot project was funded, and ROYAL – Raising Our Youth As Leaders – came into being. Today, ROYAL’s staff of six works with about 70 high-risk youth of color each year, all of whom are involved in the criminal justice system. But instead of incarceration, the program offers case strategizing, mentorship and life-coaching, teaching these young people to take responsibility for their lives and helping them to begin realizing their dreams. According to a recent report, it costs ROYAL staff about $12 a day per youth to work with them, compared to $100 a day to house them in detention. More significantly, the program’s success rates are staggering: The most recent analysis showed 80 percent of those involved don’t reoffend.


Project 180  

The 180 Program reaches youth who are facing their first or second low-level misdemeanor offense, and instead of filing charges against the young offenders in Juvenile Court, the PAO invites them to participate in a half-day workshop sponsored by community members.  The youth also engage in small group exercises where they talk about the issues affecting them and receive personal direction on how to make a change in their lives. 


Both the University of Washington and the King County Office of Performance, Strategy and Budget have evaluated Project 180. The University of Washington conducted a year-long process evaluation of the 180 Program, and preliminary results reveal that it is a very effective program in inspiring youth to want to make positive changes in their lives.  The evaluation also shows that the 180 Program inspires youth to view themselves in a more positive light and empowers them to believe that they can make better choices.  Of the 353 youth who attended the 180 Program workshops, more than half were youth of color.  Preliminary evaluation data indicate that the 180 Program is very effective and that it positively impacts the vast majority of youth who attend, regardless of race, age, and gender.  The King County Office of Performance, Strategy and Budget (PSB) conducted a limited outcome evaluation that examined the first year of implementation of the program.  Results indicated that the program worked especially well for African American youth.  When compared to a traditional diversion program in King County, African American youth who participated in Project 180 had significantly lower short term re-offending.  PSB will evaluate the program again in 3-5 years.


Diverting young offenders out of our juvenile court system also generates considerable financial savings in public defense, detention and court costs, but a more sustainable value of the 180 Program is to reach young people in a personal way, to get them to express their goals for their lives, and to get them back on a positive track toward those dreams, and away from criminal activity on the streets. 
The 180 Program utilizes the power of the Prosecuting Attorney's Office and the personal connection of their communities in a unique collaboration to reduce ongoing crime, save county resources and invest in the positive aspects of a future generation. 

In February of 2015 a new Restorative Mediation diversion program was created that is community-based and uses a restorative justice approach. The Family Intervention and Restorative Services (FIRS) is a new approach for the handling of youth family violence. Initially led by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, FIRS is a partnership made up of King County Superior Court, the Department of Public Defense, the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, the Department of Judicial Administration, the Prosecuting Attorney, and the City of Seattle. The long standing model for handling of juvenile domestic violence was not working.  Formal case processing introduced an adversarial relationship to the family that, often times, did not result in appropriate services for the family. Families were not receiving a response when they needed it most – at the time of crisis. In FIRS, all cases are carefully staffed and triaged for the appropriate interventions and services to be offered. Families complete a safety plan that assists them in dealing with future incidents and youth are offered services and enter into a FIRS agreement to avoid formal court processing. Juvenile family violence referrals made up 1/3 of new bookings into Juvenile Detention, historically. Since the FIRS respite center opened on July 1, 2016, the number of bookings into secure detention has decreased and more families have been offered intervention services at the time of crisis. 



King County partners continue to gather data on our youth referrals and detention rates in-order to better understand impacts of law enforcement policies, school policies, social/economic factors, and substance and mental health issues.   On February 12, 2015 Superior Court Presiding Judge Susan Craighead issued a call to action to address racial disproportionality in the juvenile justice system. In her remarks Judge Craighead noted:   

In 2014 in King County, for the first time, the number of referrals for African-American youth exceeded the number of referrals for white youth. More than half the cases in King County Juvenile Court were filed against African-American youth, while they make up just under 10 percent of the population. On any given day in 2014, 51 percent of the youth held in detention were African-American. As a County, we have done much great work to reduce the number of juvenile court filings and the number of youths in detention by 72% in 12 years. But these efforts have disproportionately benefited white youth. Youth of color remain ensnared in our juvenile justice system.

This situation is utterly untenable. The number of youth in the juvenile justice system is going down, but the percentage of African-American youth is going up, despite the work of many people of good will in County government. Racial disproportionality and the vestiges of racism have no place in our justice system and we will continue to do everything in our power to eliminate them.

She also stated: “No judge wants to place a young person in detention. We know that detention can increase recidivism and the chances of failure in school. This is why we try to reserve detention for those who are accused of serious offenses and for whom there are no realistic alternatives. And too often judges find they have no realistic alternatives.

We have been challenged to envision a world where there is no need to incarcerate youth at all. As much as we wish we could, we cannot implode juvenile detention tomorrow with no alternatives in place, especially for youth who cannot be released to their parents or guardians. Mothers, fathers, faith leaders, educators, and community workers need to suggest to us community-based and other alternatives to detention that can work and be accepted by the people of King County.

The racial disparity problem we call out today is faced by urban centers across the country. No one so far has been able to eliminate disproportionality. We have the opportunity to set an example for other communities in this nation as we try, together, to find answers.”


What influences Juvenile Justice Contacts?

Crime and incarceration rates are affected by variable and persistent economic and social conditions and inequalities. Youth involvement with our courts is influenced by law enforcement efforts, school policies, availability of mental health and substance abuse treatment services, and supportive housing and employment opportunities for families. Charging decisions, sentencing practices, and modifications to the adult and juvenile criminal codes all have direct links to our detention rates and racial disproportionality issues.


While King County and its partners can continue to create innovative programs and partner with our communities to develop new approaches and get upstream of the traditional law and justice approach it is necessary to work with our stakeholders and communities to align our efforts.


Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee

The Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee, founded in 2015, is a group of King County Community members and leaders charged with recommending solutions to end racial disparity in the regional juvenile justice system. It is the largest and most diverse group King County has ever assembled to act on juvenile justice issues. The committee will engage those most impacted by the juvenile justice system as members examine school, police, court and detention policies. Parents, youth, mental-health and grassroots leaders are included among the JJESC membership. They are teaming up with the heads of school districts, law enforcement agencies and courts from across the County. The panel includes youth who have experienced juvenile detention themselves, youth mentors, a foster parent and community-based advocates fighting to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by increasing effective alternatives to school suspensions and youth detention. The committee is charged with developing action plans designed to reduce the over-representation of youth of color in our juvenile justice system.


Superior Court Actions

After her comments the Court began to discuss immediate actions that it could take to address disproportionality in the use of detention in juvenile system.  The Court announced a target reduction of 50% in the use of detention for a probation violation in one year.  In 2016, the daily average population in juvenile detention for a probation violation was 8.5, representing a 24% drop from 2015. These young people have been convicted of a criminal offense and placed on probation.  A juvenile probation officer monitors the youths compliance with the Court’s sentencing order.  Often the orders contain conditions of no new criminal law violations, treatment, attending school, counseling, community service, and other conditions tailored to address the underline behavior that may have been a contributor to the crime.  If the youth fails to comply with the order one of the sanctions which can be imposed is the use of detention.  The Court is working with juvenile probation and coming up with new alternatives and sanctions that can be used before considering detention. In 2016, 151 African American youth, 57 Caucasian youth, 37 Hispanic youth, 16 Native American youth, and 11 Asian/Pacific Islander youth were in detention for a probation violation.

Superior Court also announced the intent to eliminate the use of detention for BECCA matters. BECCA laws allow the Court to use contempt powers to hold a run-away, truant, or at risk Youth in Detention if they fail to comply with a court order to remain at home, in school, or comply with other terms intended for the health and safety of the child.  Although the court has been using alternatives to detention there are still a few children who end up in detention for failing to comply. This is generally due to the court not having a safe placement option alternative.  The law gives the court authority to use detention but this new direction incorporates evidence based practices, which demonstrates a correlation of detention of youth to adult criminal incarceration. Using detention for a status offense, not going to school or running away from home, is likely to increase the chance that the child will be incarcerated at some point in their adult life. In 2016,  there were 133 youth in detention for a BECCA or Dependency contempt finding, down 11 percent from 2015 (149).  Of these, 58 were African American, 46 were Caucasian, 15 were Hispanic, 12 were Native American, and 2 were Asian/Pacific Islander youth.

A target reduction in use of detention for a probation violation or a BECCA matter does not insure that all races, genders, or ethnic groups will get the same results.  The Court and probation must work on assuring that the intended results of addressing disproportionality are achieved in an equitable rate for all our youth.  This equity work requires collecting data and understanding impacts of the alternatives to assure fairness.  The Court and County are committed to these principals and being transparent in sharing the results and creating equal opportunities for the success of our children on probation.  


New Diversions and Alternatives  

King County Prosecutor, Dan Satterberg, New Approach to Domestic Violence

History of Juvenile Domestic Violence in King County

Historically, the intervention model for juvenile domestic violence cases was an impossible paradigm because families in crisis only received services when triggered by arrest and/or formal charging. Parents who experienced violence from their child wanted to be taken seriously, they wanted to feel supported, they wanted to feel safe, and they wanted their child to be motivated to change his/her behavior, but they almost never wanted formal criminal charges.

Unlike adult court, juvenile DV rarely involves intimate partner violence. The vast majority of the cases involve youth acting out in ways against their parents or siblings that meet the legal definition of a crime. Most situations involve misdemeanor offenses, such as Assault 4, Harassment, or Malicious Mischief 3. Family violence easily makes up the largest category of violent offenses that we see in King County Juvenile Court. The problem is particularly concerning in the City of Seattle where 38% of all juvenile arrests for persons crimes were for domestic violence related offenses. It is also the only category of juvenile offense in Seattle that has actually seen an increase in arrests between 2008 and 2012.

In 2013, juvenile DV accounted for 17% of all admissions to juvenile detention and a staggering 32% of all new bookings (329 total). DV matters also follow the disturbing trend of racial disproportionality in the juvenile justice system.


King County Juvenile Court

Admissions to Secure Detention on New Domestic Violence Offenses (2013)



Asian/ P.I.





Assault 2







Assault 4














Felony Harassment







Malicious Mischief 1 & 2







Malicious Mischief 3





















% of Total by Race








While DV cases make up a significant portion of the work we do, we haven’t reexamined the way we provide services for these youth and parents in more than 15 years. Families that resort to calling the police are typically in crisis and are seeking help for themselves as well as the offender. Many of these youth struggle with substance abuse and mental health disorders. Although these families look to the juvenile justice system for help, almost none of them want their children to end up with a criminal record. Parents/guardians/siblings routinely decline to assist or participate in the formal court system for this reason. Approximately 40% of juvenile DV referrals result in declines. While the immediate crisis may have been resolved with the removal of the child from the home, these families receive no services and are left to fend for themselves when the youth is returned home. Of the cases that proceed with formal processing, most end up in dismissals, SOCs or other forms of diversion long after the incident. Ultimately, these families receive little benefit from involving the courts. King County Juvenile Probation statistics confirm that needed services rarely reach these families in crisis under the current system. Of the nearly 500 juvenile DV referrals received in 2013, only 18 youth were referred to an evidence based treatment program. Most troubling is the fact that the current system fosters an environment where parents and guardians may be less likely to reach out for help in the future when the crisis returns.


The trigger for services should be the call for help, not an arrest or subsequent charging. Fortunately, we do not have to reinvent the wheel to fix this issue. There are other jurisdictions that have recognized the unique dynamics present in juvenile DV and have employed alternatives to formal processing. One model example comes out of Pima County, AZ, at their Domestic Violence Alternative Center (DVAC) where they have seen their juvenile DV booking numbers plummet from over 1000 youth annually, to just 82 in 2012.


New Family Intervention and Restorative Services Center (FIRS)

In King County, our DVAC of Family Intervention and Restorative Services Center (FIRS) is an alternative to detention intake for youth who are arrested for misdemeanor domestic violence offenses. Law enforcement present youth to the detention screening unit, where trained juvenile probation counselors help determine the appropriate placement based on the charge and the youth and family willingness to go to the center. This 24/7 center is located adjacent to the detention facility. Youth and families get immediate crisis intervention services and assessment by a master level social worker guided by the leading experts in family violence (King County Step-Up Program). Respite care is available for a cooling off period and time to assess next steps. Probation counselors assigned to the program provide youth with an opportunity to sign a domestic violence evaluation contract. If the youth abides by all of the conditions of the contract their case is never referred to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

While the center is still in its infancy, the anticipated benefits of this common sense approach will be substantial:

  • Based on 2013 statistics, nearly 300 fewer youth will be booked into juvenile detention.
  • 55% of these detention eligible youth would be youth of color.
  • Nearly 500 families will bypass the delay created by formal court processing and receive earlier intervention services.
  • Research has shown that formal processing in the juvenile justice system increases juvenile delinquency. DVAC will safely divert hundreds of youth out of this system every year.
  • This approach draws from restorative justice principles that are widely supported by the community and have proven effective in addressing juvenile delinquency.
  • Significant long-term savings will be realized as a result of foregoing costly formal court processing.


Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice is focused on the belief that those affected by harm can work together to repair it and that this collaboration leads to true accountability. 

These practices are voluntary and include:

  • Classroom and community talking circles
  • Mediation
  • Restorative circles
  • Conferencing


Three Questions in Traditional Legal Systems

  1. What law was broken?
  2. Whose fault is it?
  3. What do they deserve?

Three Questions in Restorative Systems

  1. Who has been hurt and what harm was done?
  2. What are their needs?
  3. Whose obligation is this?


Restorative Mediation Program
The Executive Services Office of King County Alternate Dispute Resolution and KC Juvenile Justice Services (KCADR) is working with Juvenile Justice Services, the PAO, Juvenile Probation Counselors, Dept. of Public Defense, and the Court to provide Restorative Models (mediation, restorative circles, peace circles, community gatherings, etc.) integrated into the current court system.

The 6 month or 10 case pilot begins this month and the Victim’s Assistant Unit and Probation Counselors will refer for victim-offender mediation third diversion cases.  These multi-party mediations will include the victim, offender, member(s) of the community.

In a unique approach, KCADR volunteer adult mediators will co-mediate with members of the youth mediator cohort in these cases. Youth Mediator Cohort Seventeen youth from four regional high schools (Garfield, Franklin, Renton Voc Tech and Big Picture) are participating in a Restorative Justice Mediation Training.

Youth RJ Mediation Team with Superior Court Judge Wesley SaintClair King County Youth Action Plan

On January 21, 2014, the Metropolitan King County Council approved legislation calling for the development of a Youth Action Plan that will set King County’s priorities for serving infants through young adults.


  • Because kids matter: King County is committed to social justice and equity for all who live here. A key component of that work is helping kids grow into adulthood with opportunities that allow them to achieve their full potential.  
  • Because we have a rich history of supporting kids: Since the 1960s, King County has participated in and funded programs aimed at assisting children, youth, and young adults. Today, King County spends over seventy-five million dollars annually on a wide range of programs that influence children and youth at all stages of development from birth to young adult.
  • Because we are one partner of many working for kids: County agencies and departments contract with a number of community-based organizations and local nonprofit organizations that work in collaboration with each other, the county, and other governments to serve children, youth and their families, and young adults.


We need to work together to leverage our strengths and focus on measurable outcomes for kids.

  • Because its time: With the onset of the Great Recession and the fiscal challenges that counties across the state are facing with limited financial resources and growing demands, King County must collaboratively and transparently examine its practices, investments, and outcomes so that we can best serve children, youth, and young adults in the most effective and efficient ways possible.


Creative justice

At some point we realized that the young people that come into contact with the juvenile justice system come with a multitude of interests and skills that didn’t match our current menu of services being offered.  King County Superior Court partnered with 4Culture to develop an arts based approach to help young people process some of their challenges and pain through the arts.  Research shows that if you engage young people around the things that they are interested in that they will soon be able to realize their true self and not let a bad choice negatively impact their future.  In developing this healthy alternative called Creative Justice (a community based alternative to detention) launched in 2015. The program's mentor artists use writing, music, performance, and visual art to increase the participants' understanding of themselves and circumstances that often lead to incarceration. It also strengthens positive decision-making and emotional expression skills that, together, help them avoid future court involvement.  Youth not only receive a mentor and a positive adult in their lives but also are paid for their time and participation in these activities that rebuild positive self-images and esteem.


Executive Dow Constantine Announces 112 bed maximum Capacity for Juvenile Detention

The current detention space at our Youth Services Center has a maximum capacity of 212 beds.  In the late 90’s King County’s average daily population in youth detention was close to 200.  Due to the many efforts of people who care about our youth and Juvenile Justice in 2014 our average daily population for youth in detention was 57.4.  The detention space at the new children and family justice center will be almost half of what it was.  The new space was designed for nine living halls.  Executive Constantine has announced that two of these halls will now be designed for non-detention alternatives and/or community space.  These two living halls could be used for new innovations such as the FIRS program mentioned or even youth in-patient mental health treatment.  The Executive has called for a panel consisting of community members and stakeholders to work on options for this space.


Executive Constantine supports Superior Court’s effort to get “upstream” of our current Juvenile Justice System and into the communities most impacted by racial disproportionality. The goal of working with our communities, law enforcement, schools, service providers and faith organizations is to create partnerships to address root causes of youth behavior that may lead to arrest and criminal charge. If we can make communities safe and healthy for our children it should result in less need for detention space.  As our detention space needs dwindle we would divert space from beds to other uses.


Aligning initiatives for success

One of the smartest investments we can make is to provide our children with a strong start, from prenatal development through the course of their early lives. That's why Executive Constantine has pledged to work with the King County Council and community leaders to develop a "Best Starts for Kids" levy proposal.

We must continue to work with our partners in the community to find ways to create opportunities for all people to reach their potential. Recently King County joined with The Seattle Foundation to announce a new initiative with an ambitious goal. Three recipient communities, SeaTac and Tukwila, through the nonprofit Global to Local; the Rainier Valley in Southeast Seattle through HomeSight; and the White Center/North Highline unincorporated area through the White Center Community Development Association. Each organization will receive at least $150,000 each year for the next three to five years to implement their strategies to improve health, housing and economic opportunities. The total investment from The Seattle Foundation and King County will be more than $1.5 million. A community of Opportunity also receives national funding and technical assistance from Living Cities. The Communities of Opportunity Initiative is a neighborhood-focused initiative that King County government and The Seattle Foundation are developing in partnership with community residents and groups, city governments, policymakers, and other funders and partners. The intent is to support community-identified goals that increase equity – health, social, racial and economic – and positively influence policies, systems and practices within and across these communities. The common umbrella for Communities of Opportunity will allow for more impact, prevent duplicative efforts, and create a foundation to engage other partners in the work. If successful, we will see a measurable closing of the gap in a cross-section of highly significant economic, social and health indicators, such as improving housing affordability and quality; improving education and economic opportunity (including living wage jobs, wealth-building opportunity); and improving community safety, reducing health risk factors and improving access to physical and behavioral health services.