Constantine highlights anti-racism, criminal legal system transformation in upcoming budget

King County executive says invest, divest, reimagine

In his State of the County address on July 24, King County Executive Dow Constantine referred to the reckoning taking place in America “to the brutal reality of racism and bias throughout our society.”

In partnership with advocates, community-members, and public servants throughout King County government, Constantine put together a package of proposals that reforms the criminal legal system, and funds ongoing work to confront racism as a public health crisis, according to a Sept. 16 news release from Constantine. The highlights will be included in the 2021-2022 Proposed Budget that Constantine will transmit to the King County Council with a formal speech on Sept. 22.

“Much has been said this summer about the urgency of upending entrenched, systemic racism and the inequities and injustices it creates,” Constantine said. “With these investments, King County puts its money where its values are. In this extraordinary moment, we took up a simple refrain to guide our budget: divest, invest, and reimagine. As we support community members in co-creating our shared future, we make an important down payment on building a strong, equitable, and racially just county that lives up to the principles of its namesake.”

Actions in the 2021-2022 budget include:

• Divest $4.6 million of marijuana tax revenue

Constantine’s proposed budget shifts $4.6 million of marijuana excise tax revenue from law enforcement to community-based programs. This represents all the money received by King County from retail marijuana sales. $2.8 million would be devoted to a program to help individuals vacate convictions of marijuana-related offenses that are no longer illegal, and settle unpaid court fines, fees, and restitution that could lead to incarceration. Black communities have historically been disproportionately harmed by our nation’s “war on drugs,” and this begins to undo some of that harm. $1.35 million would be shifted to the Department of Local Services for programs co-created with residents in the unincorporated area, including youth marijuana prevention and employment programs. The remaining $450,000 would be used to create and support a community-centered advisory body that would determine how to spend marijuana taxes in future years.

• Invest $6.2 million in “Restorative Community Pathways”

In lieu of filing charges, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will refer up to 800 young people by 2022-2023 to receive comprehensive, community-based services. A partnership between community organizations and the Department of Public Defense, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Community and Human Services, Restorative Community Pathways also includes appropriate services and support for harmed parties, and restitution so that youths who cannot pay fines and other financial obligations do not end up in a cycle of probation violations and incarceration. Most of the impacted youth are low-income people of color, and this novel program was conceptualized and developed by community organizations who serve those youth. The program will eventually be fully funded through staff savings in King County Superior Court, Department of Public Defense, and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

• Invest $750,000 to co-create and implement alternative to policing in urban unincorporated King County

The Executive Office will partner with the King County Sheriff’s Office and community members to co-create and implement a new community-driven safety model in urban unincorporated areas such as White Center, Skyway and East Renton. This may involve hiring behavioral health professionals to partner with Sheriff’s Office Deputies and divert cases from criminal courts and jails. The goal is to design the program in 2021 and implement no later than 2022.

• Divest $1.9 million in detention by continuing limits on jail population

During COVID, King County has reduced the daily adult population in the jail to 1,300, down from approximately 1,900 pre-COVID, and the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention and others will seek to maintain and further reductions. This will allow closure of one floor (out of 12) at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle. The savings estimate is based on gradual implementation in 2022. Savings will be much larger in subsequent biennia and will be devoted to support programs outside the criminal legal system.

• Invest $600,000 to respond to regional gun violence

Public Health Seattle-King County’s Zero Youth Detention program will continue the regional gun violence prevention initiative in 2021-2022. This program is focused on areas of the County experiencing increases in gun violence, particularly among young people of color.

• Invest $2.7 million in a community justice model to divert eligible first-time offenders in lowest level cases from the judicial system, offering services to break the cycle of chronic offenses

The Executive’s Office will work with the Department of Community and Human Services, and community organizations to implement King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg’s proposal to divert approximately 1,000 of the lowest-level filings from the judicial system each year. Instead of facing traditional prosecution, these individuals – who are facing their first charge and are disproportionately young men of color – will be offered a community-based alternative that emphasizes restorative justice and restoration for harmed parties. Violent crimes and crimes against people are not eligible. Community-based diversion alternatives will be developed, including a restitution fund for harmed parties. Design will occur through mid-2021, followed by development of community-based alternatives. The program will be implemented no later than the beginning of 2022. The program will eventually be fully funded through staff savings in public defense, prosecutors, and the courts.

• Reimagine fare enforcement on Metro

Metro Transit will partner with King County Sheriff’s Office, contractors, employees, and community members to co-create new alternatives to traditional fare enforcement, which has had a disproportionate negative impact on riders of color. With COVID-19 fare enforcement will continue to be suspended at least through the end of 2020. The goal is to design new programs in 2021 and implement no later than 2022. The current contract with a private security firm to provide fare enforcement services is $4.7 million.

• Invest in community engagement

The 2021-2022 Proposed Budget makes investments to change the County’s approach to working with community to support co-creation and the long-term success of community-based organizations. This includes creating a participatory budgeting effort to determine how to invest $10 million in new capital projects in the urban unincorporated areas of Skyway, White Center, Fairwood, East Federal Way, and East Renton.

Additional programs and investment will be made available on the Office of Performance, Strategy & Budget website following the transmittal of the 2021-2022 budget on Sept. 22.