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Originally published August 7, 2012 at 10:03 PM | Page modified August 7, 2012 at 10:03 PM

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Voters buy into need for new juvenile-justice center

A $210 million levy to rebuild King County's aging youth-detention center and court facilities faced an uphill battle. But voters grasped the necessity of a new facility for modern juvenile justice.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Tuesday's election brought heartening proof that King County voters care about the quality of juvenile justice.

King County Proposition 1, a $210 million levy to rebuild a dilapidated youth-detention center and court facilities appeared to be passing Tuesday evening.

The nine-year levy will pay for replacing three buildings that currently handle juvenile-offender, child-abuse and child-abandonment cases on a sprawling site near Seattle University. Taxes will increase about $25 a year on a $350,000 home over the next nine years.

Voters rightly grasped that this proposal was not about new jail beds, but about a critical investment in a public service. The alternative, sinking an estimated $40 million into repairing the current buildings, was not the answer.

King County now has an opportunity to build on proven methods for turning around troubled young lives. New facilities will improve coordination and access to services, including juvenile drug court, mentoring programs and therapeutic services for youths and their families. These are efforts proved to reduce recidivism rates among young offenders.

Seattle Public Schools operates a mini-school, housed in the basement of the current facility. A new, modern building will mean classroom space more conducive to learning. Other programs set to gain from more space and improved surroundings include employment training and helping offenders improve decision-making skills, anger control and morale.

The county plans to sell about three acres of the property to private developers. The estimated $16.5 million from the sale will help pay construction costs. The smart leveraging of public dollars and the prospect of new housing and retail in an underdeveloped area add to the community benefit.

Voters were in a generous mood. A $123 million seven-year levy to help fund Seattle library operations also appeared to be passing.

A region that cares about its young people can now make good on a promise to improve juvenile justice.

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