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Rimon and his mom

Striving towards zero youth detention

Rimon and his mother both invested in the first King County Juvenile Court felony case to be resolved through a peacemaking circle, a process inspired by Native American traditions. Learn more about Rimon's story.

King County wants to see all youth in our community happy, healthy, safe and thriving. Juvenile detention is a road block to this goal and generates urgency for us to do everything we can to build a holistic, trauma-informed juvenile justice system and work towards Zero Youth Detention.

We know that juvenile detention disproportionately impacts youth and families of color. Guided by the Children Youth Advisory Board equity statement, King County has a responsibility to do better for our kids and community before, during, and after they are involved with the justice system. Youth exist within the context of their families, and when the juvenile justice system touches the life of a youth, the system should support both the youth and family with care and respect throughout the juvenile justice process and beyond.

What is a public health approach to juvenile justice?

The Public Health approach is a way for us to change a whole system to achieve better outcomes for children, youth, families, and communities.

It is resilience-based, building on the strengths of families and communities. Applied to juvenile detention, a public health approach focuses on the well-being of youth, families, and communities to drive changes to services, systems, and root causes. Through a public health approach, community and system partners come together to promote the positive development and well-being of all youth, to expand the use of the best evidence and promising practices on adolescent development, and to ensure that the collective response to youth in crisis restores them on a path towards well-being.

A public health approach:

  • Emphasizes the health of whole communities
  • Seeks to understand the latest evidence and science and apply to policy and systems
  • Defines and measures issues
  • Focuses on prevention strategies
  • Equally promotes well-being and reduces illness, risks or threats to safety
  • Addresses disproportionate impacts
  • Tests strategies and shares what is working

Leadership and collaboration

Leadership and collaboration

On November 16, 2017, King County Executive Dow Constantine issued an Executive Order to establish an internal, cross-departmental team to provide recommendations for restructuring juvenile detention under the oversight and direction of Public Health – Seattle & King County, using a therapeutic approach to juvenile detention services in King County.

This team is a coalition of twenty diverse County leaders, who are all committed to a science-driven, public health approach to juvenile justice moving forward. Leadership on the team includes collaborative representation from the following agencies:

  • Public Health – Seattle & King County
  • King County Superior Court
  • Executive Office
  • Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention
  • Department of Community and Human Services
  • Prosecuting Attorney's Office
  • Department of Public Defense
  • King County Sheriff’s Office
  • Performance, Strategy and Budget
  • Office of Labor Relations

Download Executive Order Report (PDF): A Public Health Approach in King County Juvenile Detention

Progress and partnership

Progress and partnership

King County is a leader in reducing youth incarceration, alongside our many community partners. Since 1998, the number of youth in detention has dropped by more than 77 percent and most youth are out of detention in three to five days. This is still not enough and more needs to be done to drop this number further.

King County prioritizes the well-being of youth and families in numerous ways and provides funding for the Stopping the School-to-Prison Pipeline program as well as other community partnerships that create opportunities for young people who face systemic barriers to success. These efforts make good on a commitment made by the Executive and are part of our larger Zero Youth Detention vision.

Alternatives to detention includes:

  • Family Intervention and Restorative Services (FIRS), offers youth arrested for family violence incidents space at an overnight respite center instead of secure detention.

  • Step-Up Program, specifically addressing adolescent family violence.

  • Creative Justice a community-based alternative to detention that arts agency 4Culture launched in early 2015 in coordination with the Prosecuting Attorney's Office and Superior Court.

  • The 180 Program, a diversion program in a partnership with the Prosecuting Attorney's Office and community-based leaders, offering youth a chance to have their charges dismissed.

  • Restorative Mediation helping offenders understand the full impact of their actions and find the community-based support they need to stay out of the criminal justice system in the future.

  • Drug Court allowing juveniles charged with an offense who have alcohol or drug problems to participate in a program including early, continuous and intensive court-monitored treatment.

Community engagement

Community engagement

In order to continue this progress, we are committed to doing more in partnership with community members and organizations. Developing a public health approach to Juvenile Detention will take time; pilot work needs to happen and success will require community engagement and involvement of community organizations, partners, families and youth. As we work towards the goal of Zero Youth Detention.



Emerging science demonstrates that the brain undergoes unique developmental changes that start during adolescence and continue into young adulthood. These changes strongly motivate adolescents and young adults to experiment and take risks, as well as to have difficulty checking their behavior, even when aware of likely consequences, particularly when they are in social or stressful situations. Life experiences powerfully influence brain development during this period.

Strengthening caring relationships and increasing supports are especially effective strategies to promote healthy behavior and heal the impact of trauma. This research is one of the most compelling reasons for restructuring juvenile detention with a public health lens and delivering services in a trauma-informed way.

The new Children and Family Justice Center

As we work toward fewer and fewer youth coming into detention, we want to make sure that those who do are supported by a developmentally appropriate environment that helps them leave as resilient as possible and better connected to what they need to thrive in their community. Detention housing units will be constructed so that they can be easily converted to transition units and community use space.

The new facility will feature:

  • An environment conducive to delivering trauma-informed services
  • Childcare facilities
  • 100 fewer beds than the existing facility
  • Space for courtrooms

More about the Children and Family Justice Center.

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