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My reflections on the People’s Tribunal on the Juvenile Justice System

This past weekend I attended the People’s Tribunal on the Juvenile Justice System, hosted by Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) and their community partners.

It was an inspiring day. Several hundred activists, concerned neighbors and community leaders came together to deepen our understanding of the systems that result in the mass incarceration of youth of color in our community and to envision a new way forward.

In the morning, leaders broke down the systems that contribute to mass incarceration: schools that fail to teach and support students of color, a social service system failing to meet the needs of students and families, and an economic system that profits off of incarceration. We heard powerful stories from people of color who have been imprisoned from a young age and forced to navigate the criminal justice bureaucracy that leads to recidivism.

In the afternoon, the room shifted to a creating hopeful vision of a different future with real alternatives to incarceration. Community-sourced ideas included school discipline changes to end the school-to-prison pipeline, culturally relevant healing centers, restorative justice programs, mentoring programs, culturally appropriate mental health services, youth employment opportunities, and much more. What the youth are calling for is an alternative vision of a juvenile justice system that is made up of networks of programs, institutions and communities committed to truly serving and supporting youth of color in Seattle.

This week, King County is expected to release an initial report about a racial impact analysis of their proposed Children and Family Justice Center—a rebuild of the court and detention facility at 12th and Alder in Seattle’s Central District.

I am hoping the report includes:

  1. A new vision for ending incarceration of young people in our community. King County has reduced the number of youth in detention by about half over the past decade. Could we reduce that number be zero in the next 10 years? With real vision, commitment and community partnership, we could.
  2. A plan to authentically engage and accept the leadership of communities of color who are stepping up to help craft solutions. Community members in the room on Saturday were crafting a vision and People’s Plan to move forward. Neither City nor County government is equipped to dismantle a criminal justice system without the leadership of communities who live through it every day. EPIC presented data, stories and facilitated discussion in a way that was healing and empowering. These community leaders are clearly part of the solution, not the problem.

The press, the City and mainstream institutions will likely turn their attention to the County plan over the next week. As we do so, I am also going to be listening to communities most impacted by the County’s plan to hear how to advance their powerful work from this weekend.

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