Guest Post: A Jail By Another Name Is Simply Jail Plus A Lie


This is a piece written by two comrades, Leith and Giday, regarding the local juvenile detention center. In August of 2012, a $210 million property-tax measure was passed by 53% to rebuild and expand the juvenile detention center in Seattle.

We were part of a larger group of community members who opposed the levy specifically and incarceration generally. Here’s a flyer we passed out in the lead up to the levy vote titled “No Throwing Away Our Youth!


The residents of the Central Area are all aware of the fact that we live next to the King
County Juvenile Detention Center. We are all aware of the fact that this facility is a jail,
and that it is sometimes referred to by the literary metaphor of “the children’s prison”.
The voters of King County at large, however, do not necessarily know this, because they
have yet to be informed of it. The King County elections officers failed this year to fulfill
their fiduciary and moral responsibility to deliver this critical piece of information to the
people of the County.

The August 2012 voters pamphlet, which asked the people to fund a new 2013 property
tax levy for the continued renovation and development of this institution, failed to even
once mention this fact. On no page of that pamphlet do the words “jail”, “prison”, or even
the facility’s actual name – “King County Juvenile Detention Center”- ever appear in
relation to this proposed tax levy.

Instead, page 10 of this pamphlet presents the following argument in favor of the levy:

The Children and Family Justice Center (“CFJC”) is where children and families go in
times of crisis; child abuse and neglect; foster care transition; complex custody issues;
juvenile offenses and truancy cases.
A growing population and economic difficulties mean more kids and families need care
and protection, but current facilities are dangerously outdated and failing our children.
Brown water flows from drinking fountains, entire section are unusable, and electrical,
plumbing, and HVAC systems are beyond repair. Financial reviews state that
replacement—not temporary fixes—is the least expensive long term solution.
Despite decrepit conditions, our court is leading in innovations for juvenile and family
justice. The new CFJC will better serve families and child advocates by co-locating
services like medical treatment, counseling, and placement. The new design will improve
safety, privacy and dignity. Combining services will save millions in duplicative service
providers and offices.
We cannot wait any longer. For less than $25/year for an average household—less than
50¢week—we can give hope to at risk kids and families. A unanimous County Council,
Dow Constantine, the Kent and Auburn Mayors, and Bellevue Reporter agree – vote YES
on Prop 1.”

This style of cheerleading for the funding of a detention center uses much of the same
rhetorical structure that has traditionally been used in defense of schools, after school
education programs, and shelters for homeless youth. This is precisely one of the many
reasons that a growing movement across the US is concerned by the continued
development of a streamlined school-to-prison pipeline. In fact, the primary movement in King County that opposes this detention levy is motivated by this exact concern,
combined with concerns about the emergence of a “convicted felon” category as the New
Jim Crow American legal and economic underclass, and the growing US prison-
industrial-complex in general. (The US has over 2 million incarcerated persons, a much
greater number in both absolute and per-capita terms than any other country on Earth.)

Unfortunately, King County chose to exclude the voice of this important movement from
the voters’ pamphlet, and even to cynically mock that movement therein.

The frivolous paragraph printed as the “Statement in opposition” on the same page (10)
shall not be repeated by us, but it may be viewed at .

It contains very little direct reference to the measure in question, but instead consists of
an abstract philosophical denunciation of taxation in general, the public sector in general,
public sector unions in general, people who rent their living space in general, and
homeless people in general.

The primary movement opposing the new detention center is not agitating against the
general concepts of either taxes or municipality, and is composed primarily of renters and also partially of homeless people. This movement is not anti-union in any way, and
includes many public and private sector union members.

This movement’s greatest concern about the tax levy portion of the measure is not that it
will allegedly increase the size of the public sector (the opposite is in fact true, as the
County’s plan will actually privatize a section of the land that the current jail is built on),
but that it will further exacerbate the mortgage foreclosure crisis, which is most acute
among the same sections of our population who are being most swiftly displaced by
gentrification and who are also experiencing the highest rates of incarceration.

To place such an outlandish paragraph in the voters’ pamphlet as a “representation” of
the opposition to the detention center tax levy is quite simply an act of cynical satire.

Satire has its place in any society, on the stage and screen, in literature, in cartoons, even
in serious editorial or opinion columns, but not in a government-issued election pamphlet. In such a context, this satire is exactly as inappropriate as a white actor putting on blackface makeup, introducing himself on a stage as “Mr. Jim Crow”, and proceeding to poke fun at African Americans for the amusement of white audiences. Page 10 of this
pamphlet calls into question the credibility of that entire government document, and the
election that it represents.

It is further important to note that, in spite of this clear partisan manipulation in favor of
August 7th’s Prop 1 on the part of the King County Department of Elections, even this
department only dares to claim a 44,315 vote margin of victory in a primary in which
432,049 ballots were counted. These were out of 1,112,236 ballots that were allegedly
issued. The population of King County was estimated at 1,931, 249 by the 2010 census.
In other words, they claim a majority mandate to fund the new jail by an approval margin
of 2.29% of the population. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics website,
“About 2.9% of adults in the U.S. (or 1 in every 34 adults) were under some form of
correctional supervision at yearend 2011.”

When even the proponents of a new correctional facility, after having withheld critical
information from the voters, are only able to claim a margin of victory that is lower than
the percentage of adults currently being “supervised” by the correctional system of the
country in question, it becomes increasingly apparent that such alleged “mandates” are
not being generated by any processes we can call democracy. The legitimacy of both the
juvenile detention center and the ballot measure that funded it need to be seriously
challenged in the judicial courts, and also in the court of public opinion.

This entry was posted in Race, What's up in Seattle, Youth. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Guest Post: A Jail By Another Name Is Simply Jail Plus A Lie

  1. haley says:

    Certainly, the infuriating passage of such a tax levy is one more example of why the voting system is corrupt. However, I think we must be careful not to believe that if the voters’ pamphlet had accurately represented what the tax would be put toward, or fairly depicted the opposition to the detention center, that the ballot would be legitimate. It is foolish to think that a voter’s pamphlet would accurately represent ANYTHING, let alone the opposition to the movement; because the voting system does not represent people. Why are we disenchanted with the misleading words of a voters’ pamphlet when daily we are faced with straight up lies from elected “officials,” cops, judges, politicians…? Isn’t the political system in its entirety, including the vote, just an act of “cynical satire”?

  2. mamos206 says:

    I agree. We have no illusions about the electoral system. It is not “democracy” in any real sense. Real democracy would be working class people tearing down the jail. But I think it’s still useful to point out the misleading words in the pamphlet, and the slim margin of the vote. The purpose of doing that is not to create a more legitimate capitalist electoral system. The purpose is to create wider legitimacy and support for possible direct actions against the juvenile detention center itself. This also could help undermine the state’s inevitable attempts to create legitimacy for repression against those possible actions. We know the electoral system is a sham covering up white supremacy and capitalist rule, and this needs to be eroded and undermined through both words and actions over time.

    As Gramsci put it, it’s about waging a “war of position” against the system’s hegemony, eroding it in order to eventually catalyze ruptures, or breakthroughs of mass rebellion, what he calls “wars of maneuver”.

  3. Pingback: Creativity Not Youth Jails « Creativity Not Control

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