County councilmembers convened Mon., Sept. 24 at Seattle’s First A.M.E. Church in the Central District for a town hall meeting on the the effectiveness of criminal justice reform efforts that have been instituted in 2000 to save money.
King County spends 70 percent of its operating budget on public safety, leaving the rest for public transit, water treatment, health and human services, and parks . In order to stem the rising cost of courts, police, and incarceration, seven years ago the council decided that reforms would have to be made to reduce crime rates and recidivism. Among improvements mentioned were reforms instituted to help youth in the county who have been trapped in a cycle of juvenile detention. These include volunteer, job, and community education opportunities.
County staffer Cliff Curry noted positive improvements in terms of the number of incarcerated individuals countywide. The county has saved $25 million on criminal justice in the last seven years, he said.
But two panelists and many members of the community were visibly and audibly dissatisfied with the failure to address the continued racial disproportionality in the county’s two jails and one juvenile detention facility.
Mary Flowers, a prison reform advocate and one of the panelists, reminded all those present that the community had “fought long and hard” to have input into the initial cost-saving plans released in 2000 and 2002. Now, she said, remarked, “It’s true that money is being saved, but if you look at what’s happening in our communities…those numbers don’t mean a whole lot.”