My Speech on Seattle’s Call for Zero Youth Detention



On September 21, 2015, the Seattle City Council unanimously adopted a resolution committing to a vision of zero youth detentions within Seattle. Congratulations to the activists and community members who have built such a powerful movement against youth detention and the school-to-prison pipeline. 

I strongly support this resolution, but words are not enough. Only months ago, every other Councilmember voted in favor of a new youth jail, which will cost more than 200 million dollars. At the same time, last year the city spent less than five million on youth jobs. In the months ahead, we need to fight to pass and fund the many initiatives and programs necessary to make this vision a reality. 


First I would like to join Councilmember O’Brien in thanking all the activists who put forward the vision of zero youth detentions for this city, and organized to force it on the city’s agenda.

This is really a culmination in some ways – but certainly not the end – of a growing movement against the racism that is so integral to our criminal justice system.

I want to list some sobering facts:

  • The US has more people in prison than any other country in the history of the world.
  • The constitutional amendment that bans slavery makes an exception for people in prison, and there is more forced labor of prisoners today than there was at the height of slavery before the Civil War.
  • Corporations across the country are making staggering profits off this prison labor.
  • The majority of prisoners in the US are people of color, with African American people alone making up nearly 1 million of the 2.3 million incarcerated individuals.
  • That racial disproportion extends to youth detentions right here in Seattle, and it is completely unacceptable.

Incarcerating young people is inhumane, destructive, and it is an indictment of our whole society.

I will be supporting this resolution, and, at the same time, we should be clear that words are not enough: This is the same Council that, with one exception, voted for the new youth jail only months ago.

I appreciate all Councilmembers voting on this resolution, and I appreciate Councilmember O’Brien’s work on this.

We also should fight to make sure that these excellent sentiments will be reflected in the upcoming budget, and in the upcoming policies that will be carved by City Hall – policies on funding for youth jobs, funding for apprenticeship programs, targeted towards inner city young people, programs and policy advocacy to end the racial biases in schools, a real push to address inequality by passing a millionaire’s tax in Seattle to fund mass transit and education, and bold policies to address the deep housing unaffordability in this city.

Thank you again, and I will be voting yes.

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