As long-standing activists within Seattle's African American community, we strongly disagree with the Seattle Times Editorial Board's endorsement of Jim Ferrell as the next King County Prosecuting Attorney. We support Leesa Manion for King County’s next Prosecuting Attorney.
First, Manion is more qualified than her opponent. She has spent 27 consecutive years working in the King County prosecutor’s office—first with Norm Maleng and then with Dan Satterberg. For the last 15 years, Manion served as Satterberg’s chief of staff. In this capacity, she has supervised a team of 600 staff and an $80 million budget. During her tenure at the Prosecutor’s Office, most of her roles were in higher positions of responsibility. In contrast, during the 16 years Ferrell worked in the same King County office, he never achieved higher than a lead attorney in the office’s Domestic Violence Court Unit.
We believe it is absurd for the editorial board to suggest that Ferrell is better-qualified than Manion to run the prosecutor’s office. Especially since both Maleng and Satterberg turned to her continuously when they needed a smart, insightful leader to help them solve complex issues or take over problem units in the office.
Secondly, Manion is more qualified than her opponent because of her experience and insight in establishing many of the office's state-of-the-art criminal legal reform programs. The Times editors wrote that Ferrell would give needed discretion to judges for placement of people within community-based alternatives to incarceration, so that youth will be held more accountable. Here they were speaking specifically about juvenile diversion programs, which for several years have counseled and mentored hundreds of Black and other inner-city youth. Most of these youth had criminal cases pending.
In a recent debate, this issue of how to engage with youth in the legal system was at the forefront. Mr. Ferrell questioned the effectiveness of King County’s most robust diversion program–Restorative Community Pathways (RCP). However, data show RCP has a recidivism rate of only 8% compared with 22% for traditional prosecution with detention as a sanction.
Restorative justice and diversion programs such as RCP deserve continued support from the public. It is important to recognize that over the past 17 years community-based organizations serving high-risk youth have made a major difference in creating hope and real opportunity for young people in our county.
We believe that our community needs to continue to have a rehabilitative orientation towards criminal legal engagement with our young people. If elected, we fear Ferrell’s orientation towards punishment will have a deleterious result for all youth, but it will be particularly dangerous for Black youth. More youth warehoused in jail is not the best answer. We have been down that road before.
It seems the editorial board has forgotten when the King County juvenile hall was woefully overcrowded as a result of a get-tough orientation towards our young people. At the end of 1999, the detention center was regularly housing more than 220 kids daily. Currently, that number is down to an average of 15 youth per day.
Programs like Community Pathways have worked and have helped to turn many youth away from crime and toward school, skill development, community service, and jobs. These kinds of programs have been evaluated by youth development professionals around the country, and many of them have been held in high regard by Mayors and other politicians in these other big cities over the last two decades.
For adults in King County, data from 2010 show that “African Americans [were] incarcerated at a rate of more than 7 times that of white and 17 times that of Asian/Pacific Islander populations. Native American residents were also incarcerated at a higher rate—nearly three times the rate of white and six times the rate of Asian/Pacific Islander populations. Both African Americans and Native Americans were incarcerated at a higher rate than the average in King County and in jails nationwide.” The racial disparities in arrests, sentencing and incarceration within King County follows the national trend. Even with this disparity, we have seen a decline in the disproportionality and we want to continue to see these disparities decrease.
Finally, we support Manion because she has the appropriate ideological balance towards justice. Yes, we agree, people who are justly found guilty of violating the law need to be held accountable. However, we also believe in supportive programs that will hold them accountable but also provide rehabilitative services to help them become better citizens and to re-engage in our communities. Accountability, rehabilitation, and restorative justice are not mutually exclusive. Manion understands this. We can create safer communities and rehabilitate people at the same time.
We are particularly offended by the editorial board's irrelevant reference and possible dog whistle to voters. The Times writes that if the job "were selected by politicians instead of voters, [Manion] would very likely ascend to the top job.” They then reference the recent political appointments of the interim Seattle Public Schools Superintendent, Seattle Police Chief, and King County Sheriff. All three of these people are well-qualified, 100% prepared for their positions, and are also people of color—as is Leesa Mansion.
The editorial board's implications were offensive, and they implied that these three leaders of color were not qualified. We think the Seattle Times logic and Ferrell's outdated and unfounded ideological thinking about crime will lead King County into a punitive orientation of older days that our community refuses to accept.
We have learned from the past and we have better ideas. Nationally and locally, we have called for justice and equity in the criminal legal arena—and we will not tolerate going back to the good ole days of yesteryear–both with racially fueled messages to voters, or to a punitive tough-on-crime orientation.
We can and must do better. At this historic junction, we must elect the energetic and fair-minded Leesa Manion as our next King County Prosecutor. She has the skills and professional experience to continue to address racial disproportionately in the juvenile and criminal legal systems. Together we will continue to work for true racial equity and justice in Martin Luther King Jr. County.