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As some protest new detention center, others say it’s unrealistic to get rid of all youth jails

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KING COUNTY -- They've blocked streets, derailed planned government speeches and on Friday protesters locked themselves around steel beams to get their message across.

“It’s time to move past the jail system more to restorative system to see the humanity in people,” the Rev. Neal Sharpe said.

Protesters are passionately opposed to the construction of a new youth detention center in King County.

The center will cost $230 million and expected to open in 2020.

Opponents say the funds should be used elsewhere instead of on the jail system that does more harm than good.

They say young people, even the ones who commit violent crime, should not be locked up.

“I don’t think that's realistic, there are some youths that need to be in some type of detention facility,” said Michelle Hankinson, who works on the front lines with at-risk kids with the nonprofit Nexus Youths and Families.

“A lot of the times for these young offenders, empathy is missing -- they just don’t understand it,” Hankinson said.

That's why Hankinson says accountability is important.

“To have them identify what they have done, how it's impacted other people,” Hankinson said.

She says the court system already doesn't jail young people for many crimes, moving more toward a rehabilitative approach.

Nexus Youth and Families opened two months ago and they are taking in teens diverted from jail.

The teens learn rules and are supervised by staff in a home-like setting.

But Hankinson says the model may not be right for the most violent teen offenders.

“If it means they have to go to detention, depending on the level of the offense, that's what has to happen,” Hankinson said.

But even if they are detained, Hankinson says, the focus should be on treatment, not punishment.

“To just put them in a cell that doesn’t do anything for them, that cuts them off from their family members and education services," Hankinson said.

She says the ideal situation for a detention center for high-risk offenders should look more like a residential center.

She says youths would be required to stay in their rooms at night, but during the day they could have the freedom to come and go within the center and receive treatment.

King County Executive Dow Constantine has said in the past that the number of kids in jail has decreased by 70% in the last 20 years.

Constantine says the goal is not to jail more youths but to eventually make sure they don't end up behind bars.




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