The initiative campaign against the new jail, I-100, fell short of its signature goal. I-100 wouldn’t have directly prevented the jail from being built. It would have only forced the city to analyze alternatives, examine the racial disparity in the prison population, and then put the question up for a vote. In the failure, however, there appears to be one potential bright spot [emphasis mine]:
The deadline for turning in the signatures is Thursday and theoretically the campaign could ask for a 20-day extension, said campaign manager Natalie Novak.
However, Novak said the campaign raised an issue “no one really knew about before.” Additionally, the county has said it would allow cities to bring people to the jail for misdemeanors beyond 2012. The county had said the cities had to stop before 2012, setting off the debate over building a jail.
I’m not entirely sure what that means for the overall jail debate now. If anyone has more specifics, please feel free to share in the comments or email me directly. I still remain puzzled that with our economy in the condition it’s in that we’re considering such a costly infrastructure investment that hardly anyone wants and is not necessary. And despite what many I-100 opponents have insisted, we’re not diverting anywhere near as many people as we should be. This was made abundantly clear in a report from Nina Shapiro at Seattle Weekly back in January [again, emphasis mine]:
While liberal groups have fought for years for more lenient drug policies, our state’s financial woes are helping accomplish what their arguments alone could not. This is true at the county level as well. Faced with a $5 million budget cut to his office, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg in October started kicking felony cases involving less than three grams of narcotics down to District Court, where they are prosecuted as misdemeanors. He says the move affects two-thirds of his caseload.
Meanwhile, the King County jail is already nearly full, and the county has said it will no longer have room for misdemeanor prisoners from the cities as of 2012. So Seattle and several suburban cities have started planning to build a new multimillion-dollar jail of their own.
There just isn’t any ambiguity about this. When two-thirds of our county prosecutor’s caseload involves people with less than .003 kg of drugs or less, our local court systems are being clogged with low-level drug offenders. If you hear any local politician talking about how we already do a good job of diverting these folks out of the system, they’re lying. We don’t. In fact, we shouldn’t be arresting any of them in the first place, which is what Portugal decided to do in 2001, and it’s been an unquestioned success.
This problem is understood in the most morally bankrupt light when we see the affect that aggressively prosecuting low-level drug offenses has on the African-American community:
While African-Americans are represented in King County average daily jail population by six times their percentage of population, five Seattle public schools that primarily serve African-American communities were closed this year to save the school system a meager $3 million.
Somehow, the city of Seattle had $110 million for a new jail, but couldn’t seem to locate $3 million to save some schools. I think that says everything you need to know about how Seattle’s city leadership views its minority communities.