BE IT ORDAINED BY THE CITY OF SEATTLE AS FOLLOWS:So, running an initiative campaign is an enormous amount of work. Why do it? Speaking strictly for myself, here's my take.
Section One: Title and Subject.
A. This measure shall be titled the “Efficiency and Fairness in Public Safety Act.”
B. For Constitutional purposes, the subject of this Initiative is “public safety.”
Section Two: Preamble and Statement of Facts:
A. Seattle's decision whether to build a municipal jail for the first time represents an expensive commitment during a time of diminishing public resources. This choice for Seattle's future has long-term consequences, and deserves a thorough and public decision-making process.
Through this Initiative, voters exercise their right to be involved in this public safety decision by mandating that the decision consider cost effective alternatives and racial justice. Voters are also to have a final vote on this critical issue.
B. Citizens of Seattle hereby find that in deciding whether to build a new jail, important factors to consider include: public safety, alternatives that may be more cost effective, and issues of racial justice and fairness. Citizens further find that voters should have a final say on whether to build a new municipal jail.
Section Three: Policies and Process for Deciding Whether to Build a Municipal Jail.
A. Prior to deciding whether to build a new municipal jail, the City of Seattle shall take the actions and/or conduct the evaluations described in this section and publicly report on the same. These actions and evaluations and their outcomes shall be fully considered in the City's decision whether to build a new municipal jail, in addition to other considerations that may be deemed appropriate.
1. The City shall negotiate openly, publicly and in good faith with King County to explore alternatives to a municipal jail, including extending the existing City-County contract for jail services. Currently the City contracts with King County for provision of jail services, under a contract that expires in 2012. The City is considering a municipal jail to replace such jail capacity, despite the possibility that such contract may be renewable under State Law, RCW 39.34.180. Continued cooperation with King County may provide the most cost-effective and progressive public safety option. King County offers nationally recognized model programs for decreasing incarceration rates and recidivism, and already has the infrastructure in place to handle a regional justice system.
2. The City shall conduct a rigorous, public analysis of how incarceration rates could be decreased in the short and long term while increasing public safety and positive outcomes. The City shall analyze how a proactive investment in social service programs, including shelter, supportive housing, early childhood education, drug and alcohol treatment and mental health care, will lower crime and arrest rates in the future. Avenues that should be explored include alternatives to incarceration such as treatment and day monitoring, changes in sentencing guidelines at the misdemeanor level, and a commitment to law enforcement diversion programs that provide better outcomes for less public money in drug cases.
3. The City shall develop and make publicly accessible a strategy to address racial disparity issues in arrest and incarceration rates. Disproportionate incarceration rates among certain communities of color deepen inequality and poverty and are a form of structural racism. A new jail may perpetuate and deepen these inequalities.
B. The City shall place the matter of the new municipal jail before the electorate in a public vote. Voters shall have the final decision on whether to build a new municipal jail. Prior to making a final commitment to build a municipal jail, the matter shall be placed before the voters for approval or rejection. Prior to the vote, the City shall inform voters of the outcomes of the actions and evaluations set forth in Subsection A of this Section. This paragraph does not require voters to be consulted on any siting decision relating to such proposed facility.
Section Four: Definitions.
A. “Municipal jail” means a municipal jail facility that is or may be built and/or operated by the City independently or jointly through an interlocal agreement with other cities, but does not include facilities built and/or operated by King County.
B. A “decision whether to build” a municipal jail means a decision by the City on whether to commit moneys towards the construction and/or operation of a municipal jail, either independently or jointly through an interlocal agreement with other cities. Neither that term nor any part of this Initiative addresses decisions and/or commitments of moneys relating to potential sites, environmental review, and/or any component of the site selection process. Such term also excludes any decisions and/or commitments of moneys relating to facilities operated by the County.
Section Five: Construction.
A. This initiative is to be liberally construed to ensure that the City's major public safety decisions are based upon principles of cost-efficiency and fairness and subject to democratic oversight.
B. Nothing in this Initiative shall be construed or interpreted to influence or constrain the City Council's decision on where to site a municipal jail. If the City and its voters decide that a new municipal jail should be built, the City Council shall have the authority delegated to it under State Law to determine the location of such a facility.
Section Six: Severability.
The provisions of this ordinance are declared to be separate and severable. The Citizens of Seattle declare that they support each of the provisions of this Initiative independently, and their support for this Initiative would not be diminished if one or more of its provisions were to be held invalid. Specifically, Citizens would support this initiative even if it did not apply to jails developed through interlocal agreements. Thus, if any one or more of the provisions of this Initiative is declared to be contrary to law, then such provision or provisions shall be null and void and severed from the rest of this ordinance, and all other provisions of this Initiative shall remain valid and enforceable.
Initiatives are the citizen's tool for when other democratic processes fail. Despite the overwhelmingly negative reception this facility has received in community meeting after community meeting, the Mayor's office has consistently characterized the new municipal jail as inevitable, with the only question on the table being one of where to put the thing. The narrow majority that was attained by Councilmember Nick Licata for a review of alternatives that includes community input is a weak brake at best on what has thus far been the Seattle process equivalent of a speeding locomotive.
A challenging economic environment makes prudent use of public resources that much more important. City plans to pay for construction of a $220 million facility with a bond issue is the household equivalent of putting an expensive but unnecessary remodel on the credit card when you're down to eating rice and beans and not sure you can still afford health insurance. A bond issue isn't free money. You pay later, with interest. In addition to construction, the facility will cost $19 million annually to run. That's about half of what Seattle spends each year on homelessness and housing. The economic outlook is bleak. Yesterday, Boeing announced a layoff of 4,500. Today, Microsoft announced a layoff of 3,500. The shit storm is here and no one knows when it will end. Let's use our limited resources where we need them most, and where they'll do good instead of harm.
The existing alternative of continued cooperation with King County is more than viable, but the City has spurned this option. Capacity exists to extend the current contract past 2012. The offer has been made and ignored. The County is a national leader in programs that reduce recidivism and minimize unnecessary incarceration. King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg is an enlightened public servant who gets that locking people up when better alternatives exist is a huge budget suck that does not improve public safety. Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr has turned out to be a punitive law and order dickhead who is on the wrong side of this issue. Who do we want to empower here?
Unnecessary incarceration deepens and further racializes inequality. A black male high school drop-out has a two-in-three chance of being imprisoned by the age of thirtyfive. The Seattle high school graduation rate for Blacks is 52%, and the schools slated for closure right now are mostly in communities of color. The extreme racial disproportionality that exists in incarceration deepens poverty in Black, Latino, and Indian communities by further reducing the economic prospects of those who are already economically disadvantaged. When people who have lousy alternatives sometimes make bad choices, the best way to make a real difference is to invest in creating better alternatives.
Emergency shelters, prisons, and jails are the dumping ground for those who can't make it in this economy, and their numbers are growing. Even a crappy minimum wage service job needs a high school diploma and a relatively clean police record. Those who lack these things, however inconvenient it may be for the rest of us, generally insist on living anyway. Low-level drug dealing and other forms of street crime are the inevitable result, and locking more and more of them up doesn't make the crime go away. There are many, many ways in which public resources can be put to the use of rebuilding lives. During the current budget cycle, King County's one drug and alcohol treatment center for indigents may well be forced to close. General Assistance - Unemployed, the $339 a month benefit for those certified as too disabled to work and having no other income, may well be eliminated. An expensive, unnecessary new jail isn't going to improve anyone's life prospects or make anyone safer, and the money is better spent elsewhere.
Attend the forum next week and find out how to get involved. "Question Inevitability: A Community Perspective on Alternatives to a New Jail" will take place at Seattle University's Pigott Auditorium from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 28. This forum by the Real Change Organizing Project will include a broad panel of respected and committed activists and experts on incarceration and its effect on communities.