Zero Youth Detention: New resources map the path, track progress

Two new resources support the goal of attaining Zero Youth Detention in King County:  (1) a comprehensive Road Map to Zero Youth Detention and (2) a dashboard for tracking progress.


Firmly grounded in evidence, the Road Map acknowledges that:

  • Restorative and community-driven strategies are effective and more likely than involvement with the criminal justice system to foster the development of happy, healthy adults.
  • After almost 20 years of progress in reducing juvenile detention in King County, the disparity between youth of color and white youth was larger in 2017 than in 1999.
  • In large part, this disparity persists due to the cumulative disadvantages of systemic racism related to housing, education, human services, and the juvenile legal system — systems that are meant to improve the lives of people in all communities.

What were the report’s key objectives and recommendations?

  • Lead with racial equity: Presented in the context of historic and ongoing systemic racism at every level of U.S. society, the report recommends two strategies: (a) identify and eliminate policies that result in racial disproportionality in the juvenile legal system and detention and (b) invest in training for any staff who work with youth (training covers topics such as adolescent brain development, trauma-informed services, restorative mediation, interpersonal communication, and direct supervision).
  • Prevent youth from entering the juvenile legal system. For the greatest impact, focus upstream and on systems. To enhance positive youth development and position youth for success, strong partnerships are needed between youth and families, schools and communities, and the County.
  • Divert youth from further law enforcement, formal legal processes, and secure detention into community-based options. To achieve this objective, partners in the legal system and community will need to work together to create a continuum of community-based approaches that provide for community safety and developmental needs of youth.
  • Support youth and families to reduce recurrence of legal system involvement and increase healthy outcomes. Outcomes are generally better when youth remain in their own communities rather than becoming involved with the juvenile legal system. When this has not been possible, however, family engagement and reentry supports are essential to fostering positive outcomes after youth have been in secure detention.
  • Align and optimize connections between systems to increase effectiveness. Everything works better when legal, community, social welfare, and health/mental health systems are working together.

Zero Youth Detention in Action

 The Superior Court, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and the King County Executive have taken steps to achieve these goals. They include:

  • Screen-and-release as an alternative to detention, which enables on-call juvenile judges to review cases and release low-risk youth to responsible adults during hours when court is not in session.
  • Expansion of “Tier 2 warrants” so police do not have to book low-risk youth into detention if they miss their first court hearing; instead, after a call to the Court’s screening unit, officers may be able to get a new court date without detention.
  • Calling on techniques of “restorative justice– swift and fair accountability for harmful behavior that brings together those harmed by criminal behavior, those who caused the harm, and members of the larger community to discuss how they’ve been affected and what should be done to repair the harm.

In addition, many King County school districts are taking a less punitive approach to school discipline – something that is expected to slow the “school-to-prison pipeline.”


Launched on the final day of 2018, The Zero Youth Detention Dashboard is a public-facing tool to track progress on zero youth detention. The headline metrics for the dashboard are organized into 4 categories:

  1. The average daily number of youth in secure detention. For youth not charged as adults, this number is down from 51 per day in 2016 to 46 per day in 2017.
  2. Annual counts of youth in secure detention. While the total number is down, racial disparities have gotten worse.
  3. Annual counts of referrals (alleged new crimes) or police reports received by the Prosecuting Attorney’s office. From 2016 to 2017, total referrals were down by 144 (from 3,688 to 3,544); referrals by school districts were down by 99; and referrals for low-level or misdemeanor offenses were down by 191. Changes in referral rates differed by race/ethnicity.
  4. Annual counts of filings of charges (cases with sufficient evidence for the court to resolve) by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Total filings declined from 2014 to 2016, and plateaued in 2017; again, changes varied by race/ethnicity.

With the Dashboard now available publicly, it’s possible to look at the numbers in different ways. The public is encouraged to provide feedback by email ( or submission of an online form. Like the Road Map, the Dashboard is a work in progress, and public scrutiny of the data from multiple perspectives should help the county move toward the goal of Zero Youth Detention.


For more information, see





Youth marijuana use: new data infographics and youth perspectives

Youth marijuana use in King County (2016)

Two new resources are now available on Public Health – Seattle and King County’s Youth Health and Marijuana website:

Among findings from the Healthy Youth Survey are:

  • Although marijuana use among youth has not gone up since retail sales of marijuana was legalized, 1 in 4 students in 12th grade report using marijuana.
  • Youth in Seattle were significantly more likely to report using marijuana than those in other King County regions (see map above).
  • Youth primarily get marijuana from friends.
  • Almost 90% of 10th graders with at least one best friend who uses marijuana report using marijuana.

Common themes that emerged in the listening sessions were:

  • Reasons youth may use marijuana..
  • Reasons youth may avoid using marijuana.
  • Youth perceptions of the risk of using marijuana.
  • Beliefs about use by other youth.
  • Perceptions about the ease of access to marijuana.
  • Where youth get their information about marijuana.
  • The kinds of information youth want about marijuana.

A key finding from the listening sessions was that youth want unbiased information from trusted, reliable sources about how marijuana works, including risks and benefits. They’re less likely to take messages seriously if they seem exaggerated or condescending.

King County schools reduce expulsions and suspensions but disparities persist

From 2013 to 2017, Highline School District reduced the Black-white discipline gap by 4.9% — the largest decline in King County [click to expand].

This week a commission led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recommended rescinding Obama-era guidance to prevent discrimination in school discipline for minor, nonviolent offenses . Immediately after the announcement, Washington state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) countered that Washington state would continue with its efforts to reduce disproportionality in school discipline – primarily by disability status, race, and ethnicity.  According to the latest available data (from the 2016-2017 school year), the disciplinary rate for students in Special Education was 3.6% above the state average; for African American students, the difference was +3.9%; and for Hispanic students the difference was +0.6%.

“This is an equity issue,” said Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal. “Each day a student misses class for disciplinary purposes is a day they miss learning. The bottom line is this: Rescinding the 2014 guidelines will have no effect on Washington’s laws and rules related to student discipline.”

Earlier this year, The Atlantic described the ups and downs of the Highline School District’s new approach to discipline (see chart above for disciplinary trends). Although each district’s approach will be different, the Washington state Legislature heeded the 2014 federal guidance by passing legislation in 2016 “to help close opportunity gaps in learning.”  To help schools comply with the law, OSPI updated school discipline rules earlier this year. Statewide, progress has already been made.

Between the 2012-2013 and 2016-17 school years, Washington schools have experienced:

  • a 0.6% reduction in discipline rate for all students (from 4.1% to 3.5%)
  • a 0.7% reduction in the discipline rate for Special Education students (from 7.8% to 7.1%)
  • a 2.3% reduction in the Black/White difference in disciplinary rates (from 6.7% to 4.4%)
    • a 2.8% reduction in the discipline rate for Black students (from 10.2% to 7.4%)
    • a 0.5% reduction in the discipline rate for white students (from 3.5% to 3.0%)
  • a 0.4 point reduction in the ratio of Black to white students disciplined (from 2.9-to-1 in 2013 to 2.5-to-1 in 2017)
  • a 0.9% reduction in the discipline rate for Hispanic students (from 5.0% in 2013 to 4.1% in 2017)

How do King County schools compare? Using data from the OSPI website, the following table shows 2013-2017 changes and 2017 discipline rates for Washington state and King County. Data were available for 18 of 19 King County school districts. For easy comparison, data cells are colored blue if they show changes or rates that were as good as or better than those in Washington state; yellow indicates that changes or rates were worse than those for the Washington overall.

From 2013 to 2017, rates of suspensions and expulsions declined in 13 of 18 King County school districts (change in WA state rate = -.6%).

  • The largest declines were in Highline (-4.0%) and Kent (-2.9%) districts.
  • All but two of the declines were at least as large as the -.6% statewide decline.
  • Overall disciplinary rates did not decline in Enumclaw, Issaquah, Vashon, Snoqualmie Valley, and Riverview. In all of these districts except Enumclaw, the 2017 discipline rate was lower than the 2017 rate for the state.
  • Despite declines in discipline rates from 2013 to 2017, rates in 4 districts (Seattle, Federal Way, Renton, and Tukwila) exceeded the 2017 state discipline rate.

Rates of suspensions and expulsions for special education students declined in 13 of 18 King County districts (change in WA state rate = -0.7%).

  • The largest declines for Special Education students were in Highline (-7.3%), Kent (-6.2%), Bellevue (-6.1%), and Seattle (-4.1%).
  • All declines in King County districts were larger than the -.7% statewide decline.
  • Disciplinary rates for Special Education students did not decline in Issaquah, Vashon, Enumclaw, Riverview, and Snoqualmie Valley. In all these districts, however, the 2017 rate was lower than the 2017 rate for the state.
  • Despite declines in discipline rates among Special Education students between 2013 and 2017, the 2017 rates in Federal Way and Renton exceeded the 2017 state rate for Special Education students.

To avoid artificial inflation of percentages due to small numbers, we excluded districts with fewer than 100 Black students from comparisons of (a) 2013-to-2017 changes in the Black-white discipline gap and (b) calculations of the 2017 ratios of Black-to-white discipline rates. Districts with fewer than 100 Black students (with 2017 counts in parentheses) were: Enumclaw (35), Mercer Island (64 in 2015; no data for 2016 or 2017), Riverview (20), Snoqualmie Valley (57), and Vashon (no data for Blacks in any year).

The disciplinary gap between Black and white students declined in 11 of 13 King County districts with ≥100 Black students [change in WA state Black/white disciplinary gap = -2.3%]

  • In 6 of those districts, the decline in the Black-white disciplinary gap exceeded the statewide decline.
  • The largest declines in the Black-white gap were in Highline (-4.9%), Bellevue (-3.9%), Seattle (-3.3%), and Kent (-3.1%) districts.
  • Despite declines in the Black-white disciplinary gap, the size of the 2017 gap exceeded the state gap in Kent, Seattle, Federal Way, and Renton.
  • Districts where the Black-white disciplinary gap did not decline were Tukwila (+3.7%) and Issaquah (+1.4%). The size of the 2017 gap in Tuikwila exceeded the state gap.

Despite many improvements in disciplinary rates in King County districts, the ratio of Black to white students who were disciplined in 2017 exceeded the state’s 2.5-to-1 ratio in 5 of the 13 districts for which data were available.  Only 5 school districts had 2017 Black/white disciplinary ratios lower than 2-to-1.

  • Two of the 5 districts with Black/white disciplinary ratios below 2-to-1 in 2017 (Lake Washington and Northshore) also had ratios below 2-to-1 in 2013.
  • Tukwila’s Black/white disciplinary ratio rose from 1.3-to-1 in 2013 to 2.3-to-1 in 2017.
  • In Bellevue, Highline, and Tahoma, 2017 Black-to-white ratios below 2-to-1 reflected improvement between 2013 and 2017.

With this week’s announcement the state made it clear that, although generally promising, progress toward equity is just beginning. While districts like Highline began exploring alternatives to expulsion and out-of-school suspension as early as 2013, others have maintained zero-tolerance policies that lead to suspension even for minor infractions. Starting in the 2019-2020 school year, districts will have to eliminate zero-tolerance approaches that mandate suspension or expulsion for any behavior other than firearms violations. According to Superintendent Reykdal, OSPI will continue “enforcement of civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in the administration of student discipline.”

For information about discipline rates in King County school districts, see Communities Count’s School Suspension & Expulsion indicator.



Marijuana use up in adults, not teens

Communities Count recently completed updating all health indicators, and has added some new ones.  Findings include:

  • Since recreational use of marijuana in Washington became legal in 2012, marijuana use increased among adults, but not among teens. [New indicator]
  • Substance use among teens: Teens’ self-reported use of alcohol, marijuana, painkillers, or other illegal drugs declined from 34% in 2004 to 24% in 2016, with significant declines across all race/ethnicity groups and regions. [New indicator]
  • Teens also reported declines in overall tobacco use (excluding e-cigarettes) and cigarette smoking. Among adults, cigarette smoking has declined across all regions, although the decline among South Region adults has stalled. In teens and adults, smoking rates for American Indians/Alaska Natives and Blacks are above the King County average.
  • Across all substance-use indicators (those listed above, plus teen and adult binge drinking), rates were higher for people who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). The just-released LGBTQ Community Spotlight offers some context for this pattern, noting that LGB youth were more likely than heterosexual youth to report feeling unsafe at school and on dates, and to report that they had been bullied and that an adult had intentionally hurt them. These findings are consistent with established links between traumatic experience and substance use.
  • Since expansion of coverage through the Affordable Care Act, the percentage of King County adults without health insurance has dropped by half. However, 1 in 3 Latinos did not have coverage in 2017 – 8 times the rate for non-Hispanic whites and 3 times the rate for African Americans and Native Hawaiians / Pacific Islanders.

Recent updates have also been posted for disability, infant mortality, and adolescent birth.


Babies must survive before they can thrive: Part 1 of 2 posts on disparities in birth outcomes

Media reports of the harrowing pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experiences of Beyoncé and Serena Williams focused public attention on longstanding disparities in maternal and infant health.  Despite their personal wealth and access to quality healthcare, neither of these high-profile, highly successful women avoided the serious medical risks associated with pregnancy among African American mothers and their babies.  While Serena, Beyoncé, and their infants survived, not all families are so fortunate.

 The data

In the United States, African American mothers are 3 to 4 times more likely than white mothers to die from pregnancy-related causes, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  African American infants are more than twice as likely as white infants to die in the first year of life (11.4 vs. 4.9 deaths per 1,000 live births).  In King County, which ranks #2 in the state for overall health outcomes, the mortality rate for African American infants (8.2 deaths per 1,000 live births) is 2.4 times the rate for white infants and 2.8 times the rate for Asian infants (see chart below).

While the national media have focused primarily on Black-white disparities, in King County the infant mortality risk for American Indians/Alaska Natives is at least as great as for African Americans.  And nationally, American Indians/Alaska Natives were the only race/ethnicity group in the country where infant mortality did not decline between 2005 and 2014.

International comparisons

 While racial disparities in birth outcomes are not unique to the United States, something about American culture appears to produce – possibly even magnify – these differences. Comparisons by the World Bank show that:

  • Infant mortality in the U.S. (6 per 1,000 live births in 2017) is higher than in 34 of 35 countries with an advanced economy (the only exception is Malta, which has the same rate as the U.S.); moreover, the U.S. infant mortality rate is double or triple the rates in 24 of 35 advanced-economy countries.
  • Maternal mortality in the U.S. (14 per 100,000 live births in 2015) is higher than in 32 of 35 advanced-economy countries (the only exceptions are Puerto Rico and Latvia); and U.S. maternal mortality is at least double the rates in 20 of these countries. The U.S. is one of only 13 countries in the world where, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality rate increased.
  • These departures from international norms for the developed world are driven by the substantial race differences in birth outcomes in the U.S. A comparison of international infant mortality data revealed that the death rate for infants born to non-Hispanic white mothers in the U.S. was the same as the average rate for infants born to mothers in countries like Canada and the Slovak Republic (about 5 deaths per 1,000 live births), while mortality for babies born to U.S. African American mothers (12 deaths per 1,000 live births) was the same as in countries like Barbados, Brazil, and Peru.

Perhaps the most striking finding is that mothers born outside the U.S. have better birth outcomes than those born here. This is especially true for Black mothers. In a landmark study using more than 5 million linked birth-to-infant death records, babies born to Black women who had themselves been born in the U.S. experienced higher risks of infant mortality (+33%), low-birthweight (+61%), and preterm birth (+48%), compared to the babies of foreign-born Black mothers.

 What underlies the differences?

Both nationally and locally, the “usual suspects” (education, poverty, age, marital status, access to healthcare) do not adequately explain the magnitude of these disparities.  A recent review concluded, “factors that generally are considered to be protective for pregnant women do not provide the same benefits for black women” and, conversely, “conventional risk factors tend to have a more negative effect on black infant outcomes.”

For example, researchers at the Brookings Institute and Duke University and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development have reported the results of a national study in which infant mortality was higher among African American women with advanced degrees than among white women who didn’t finish high school (see below).  Similarly, while Washington’s Department of Health reported that, “in general, infant mortality is higher among mothers who completed fewer years of formal education,” this was not true for African Americans, “for whom the rate does not change as educational attainment increases.”

Note: In the chart above, IMR = Infant Mortality Rate.  Chart originally published in “Fighting at Birth: Eradicating the Black-white Infant Mortality Gap,” March 2018.

According to Washington’s 2017 Infant Mortality Reduction Report, although the risk for infant mortality is generally greater for unmarried women, this difference is only significant among whites.  As with education, marriage offers no measurable protection for the babies of married African American women, whose risk of dying is at least as high as that of babies born to unmarried white women (8.4 vs. 6.1 deaths per 1,000 in Washington state).  Similarly, for white mothers the risk of infant mortality is highest in the teen years and after age 40, but for African American mothers the risk remains high (>10 deaths per 1,000 live births) throughout their childbearing years.

Full circle

These findings lead back to the paradox of why, even with significant advances in obstetric and perinatal medicine, longstanding racial disparities in birth outcomes have not diminished. Part II of this series will explore growing evidence for the idea that racism in the United States – not just overt discrimination, but the day-to-day experiences of growing up as a female of color in this country – can exact a cumulative physiological toll that for many remains undetected until motherhood.


For more information on infant mortality in King County, see Communities Count.  Public Health-Seattle and King County’s Community Health Indicators website presents data on other indicators showing racial disparities related to birth outcomes, including: