Features | Autumn 2011
The War Against Youth Violence and Incarceration
By Mike McCormick Huentelman, Co-Chair, King County Youth Chaplaincy
In 2008, community members were reeling from the shock and grief of losing our youth to senseless violence and gang retaliations. The city of Seattle responded with the launch of Seattle’s Youth Violence Prevention Initiative.
At the same time, a group of pastors and ministry leaders gathered together to ask ourselves the question, “What will be the response of the faith community to the rise in youth violence?” This was not a new question, but for this gathering of ministry leaders it was a question that had a fresh sense of urgency and opportunity.
In that same year, there was a transition taking place with the Chaplaincy program at King County’s Juvenile Detention Center. World Vision wanted to transition the oversight of the Chaplaincy program to a collaboration of churches and ministries with a heart for youth.
Would churches and ministry organizations be willing to come together to serve our youth in the Juvenile Detention Center? We knew that we wanted to interrupt the cycle of violence and lower the recidivism rate of youth in our criminal justice system. Out of this desire, King County Youth Chaplaincy was born.
We know that preventing youth from being detained and involved in the criminal justice system is beneficial for everyone. What we were surprised to learn was the cost of that system and its overall scope. Did you know that:
- King County pays $493.43 per juvenile per day for secured detention, according to the overall budget cost for 2010.
- In 2010, the daily average population for King County Juvenile Detention Center was 89.4 juveniles. Of these, nearly 45 percent were African-American — the highest demographic population.
- The average length of stay per juvenile was 11.48 days — but 12.60 days for African-American juveniles, compared with 12.06 for Hispanic juveniles and 9.26 for white juveniles.
- The largest growing demographic of youth detained in King County’s Juvenile Detention Center come from cities in the Puget Sound’s south end (Federal Way, Auburn, Des Moines, Kent, SeaTac, Renton, Tukwila, Burien, White Center, Skyway, Southeast Seattle).
It might be easy to say that this is a problem for the African-American community, or that the cities in the south end of King County should provide some attention to this growing trend. But the reality is that these are our youth. And the need is far greater than any one community can effectively manage.
The public servants in the criminal justice system work tirelessly to serve our youth. But they are often overwhelmed and limited in their ability to holistically meet the need of the families they serve. Youth are looking for mentors. Families are looking for support. And there is a clear need for the faith community throughout King County to engage.
King County Youth Chaplaincy unites churches and ministries to reach youth and families with the love of Christ. We accomplish this through building community partnerships and providing direct chaplaincy programming for youth within the Juvenile Detention Center.
Chaplaincy. Chaplaincy provides a significant service to our youth within the detention center. This has been the foundation of our ministry. During our first 18 months of existence, we have provided chaplain services to over 4,372 youth (duplicated) and provided over 974 one-on-one mentoring sessions.
Aftercare. Building a network that provides youth with a healthy place to engage is critical to helping families find an alternative community for support and encouragement. As we connect with youth outside of detention, we have been successful in helping to link them to youth groups where they can grow and choose a new direction for life.
Prevention. King County Youth Chaplaincy is currently working with Seattle’s Youth Violence Prevention Initiative to reach out to youth and families in Seattle. We are also working with King County to increase support for youth that qualify for the King County Diversion Program and to connect them with available community mentors.
It does not matter how big or small the congregation. It does not matter how healthy the finances of the ministry. It does not matter how grand the vision. In isolation, we simply will not be able to make a measurable dent in the needs that face our youth.
However, as we join together, we can accomplish a great deal. We have already laid a solid foundation. We are building healthy partnerships across communities with youth outreach workers, pastors, youth ministries, and like-minded organizations. We are seeking to expand our network into the cities and communities south of Seattle. And we are moving forward with fresh hope that together we can make a significant difference in reaching our youth with the love of Christ.
Mike McCormick Huentelman is currently serving as the director of Urban Missions at Seattle’s University Presbyterian Church and co-chair of King County Youth Chaplaincy. He is a recent graduate of the executive MPA program at the Dan Evans School at the University of Washington. Mike and his family live in southeast Seattle.
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