Prosecutors Lead the Way for Domestic Violence Detention Alternatives in King County

Posted July 26, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog prosecutorsleadtheway 2017

In more and more Juve­nile Deten­tion Alter­na­tive Ini­tia­tive™ juris­dic­tions, pros­e­cu­tors are embrac­ing change and even lead­ing the way. Case in point: Fam­i­ly Inter­ven­tion and Restora­tive Ser­vices (FIRS) in King Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton, home to the city of Seattle.

The King Coun­ty Pros­e­cut­ing Attorney’s Office began sev­er­al years ago to chal­lenge its own han­dling of juve­nile domes­tic vio­lence cas­es involv­ing fam­i­ly mem­bers. Juve­nile Unit Chair Jim­my Hung and then-vic­tim advo­cate Stephanie Trollen noticed for years how dif­fi­cult the domes­tic vio­lence sys­tem was for fam­i­ly mem­bers; how fam­i­ly mem­bers were pit­ted against each oth­er in court; and how inef­fec­tive the sys­tem was, with fam­i­lies nev­er receiv­ing the actu­al ser­vices need­ed in a time of cri­sis. Good evi­dence-based pro­grams were only avail­able after an adju­di­ca­tion, which was a rare occur­rence due to the reluc­tance of many par­ents to go to trial.

One third of the youth sent to deten­tion in King Coun­ty were there because of a domes­tic vio­lence case, a high­er rate than for any oth­er offense. In 90% of juve­nile domes­tic vio­lence cas­es, the vic­tim was a fam­i­ly member.

The King Coun­ty Pros­e­cut­ing Attorney’s Office acknowl­edged the prob­lem and advo­cat­ed for change. Its advo­ca­cy helped build a col­lab­o­ra­tion among the King Coun­ty and City of Seat­tle agen­cies that cre­at­ed FIRS, a domes­tic vio­lence diver­sion pro­gram pro­vid­ing ser­vices for fam­i­lies in cri­sis and offer­ing respite care for charged youth.

Launched Jan­u­ary 1, 2016, the first phase of FIRS began link­ing youth and fam­i­lies with spe­cial­ly-trained juve­nile pro­ba­tion coun­selors and social work­ers. While state law man­dates that arrest­ed youth report to the deten­tion cen­ter, almost all youth charged with a mis­de­meanor fam­i­ly vio­lence offense head to the respite cen­ter with­in about 30 min­utes, after a short eli­gi­bil­i­ty inter­view. Felony offens­es require more in-depth screen­ing before youth are referred. FIRS staff inter­view the youth and par­ent or guardian sep­a­rate­ly, then bring every­one togeth­er to devel­op a safe­ty plan and estab­lish a ser­vice agree­ment in lieu of prosecution.

Phase two of the project began on July 1, 2016, with the open­ing of the sev­en-bed FIRS respite cen­ter, which is oper­at­ed by com­mu­ni­ty-based non­prof­it Pio­neer Human Ser­vices. Thanks to the county’s work in pri­or years to reduce its deten­tion pop­u­la­tion, juve­nile court staff were able to repur­pose an unused sec­tion of the deten­tion cen­ter. Fol­low­ing the advice of fam­i­lies, youth, vic­tim advo­cates and the facility’s com­mu­ni­ty-based oper­a­tor, the walls were bright­ened with a mur­al paint­ed by youth which gave it a com­fort­able, more wel­com­ing atmosphere.

At its core, FIRS rec­og­nizes that for young peo­ple involved in a domes­tic vio­lence cri­sis, the last thing that they and their fam­i­lies need is to exac­er­bate the sit­u­a­tion with the trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ence of being secure­ly detained,” said Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group.

These pos­i­tive changes were pos­si­ble because a prosecutor’s office proac­tive­ly exam­ined its prac­tices and admit­ted things weren’t work­ing. The will­ing­ness of coun­ty and city agen­cies to col­lab­o­rate to make the nec­es­sary changes, and the involve­ment of an able local non­prof­it, helped secure the transformation.

Read how FIRS encour­ages mean­ing­ful engage­ment of youth and families

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