Dear Friends and Allies,
For the past few years, Mockingbird youth advocates have advanced legislation to eliminate the use of jail (juvenile detention) for non-criminal offenses (status offenses, e.g., running from placement, being absent from school, or being deemed “at risk”).
The state has used this practice for decades in the name of safety, or law and justice. In 2017, youth were jailed 1,540 times for non-criminal behavior. Jailing non-criminal (status) offenders threatens the future of our young people who already have the deck stacked against them. It does not serve or support young people who are suffering from traumatic experiences to introduce more traumatic experiences, like jail. Doing so is counter-productive.
Jailing young people for non-criminal behavior does not result in a change in behavior. Nor does it address root issues causing such behavior. Instead, it is proven to increase the chances that youth will be jailed in juvenile detention in the future. According the ACLU, jailing status offenders makes it more likely they will recidivate despite receiving treatment or services (if any) in jail.
Further, as Dr. Jody McVittie testified in a recent Washi
“We are in the middle of an epidemic of trauma — historical and social trauma in addition to the interpersonal trauma that we hear about in the news. And like the flu and other epidemics, this problem is transmitted from person to person. And, it is a public health problem…how we respond to people exposed to trauma matters. We can make it worse — by adding more trauma — or we can begin to break the cycle by creating interventions that begin the healing…We need to move away from the vicious cycle we are in — to a virtuous cycle where we can heal our communities.”
Supporting the needs of status offenders is a public health issue that demands a response different than incarceration. As a solution, The Mockingbird Society’s youth advocates are petitioning for traumainformed processes that address root causes and promote safety and well-being. Subject matter experts have demonstrated that what Mockingbird’s youth are advocating for offers a more effective approach to caring for our kids than jail, such as collaboration between child serving agencies and increased community resources.
We cannot continue with policies and practices that are failing the potential of our children. When faced with facts of unintended consequences and negative outcomes, we must be willing to admit publicly that our policies are wrong and hurting our communities. We must have the intellectual courage and humility to end policies and practices that, however unintended, inflict trauma, pain, and intergenerational poverty upon children, youth, and families.
Now is the time for us to listen to our young people, the research, and the majority of states who have come to the conclusion that jailing status offenders is not safe, therapeutic, or beneficial. Now is the time to end this practice in Washington and replace it with services that are safe, affirming, and supportive for youth in the immediacy and for their future well-being.