Jeanne Kohl-Welles

It’s time to right the wrong of jailing runaways

I couldn’t agree more with the Op-Ed written by King County’s Department of Public Defense Director Anita Khandelwal.

This could have been prevented long ago. That’s why I opposed the “Becca Bill” in 1995 as a brand-new Washington state senator. The “Becca Bill” allowed judges to order kids to be incarcerated for being truant from school or running away from home. I believed this was not the answer and worked tirelessly to block the bill. Unfortunately, the bill passed, and as a result — even though proponents argued that jailing runaways would be rare and brief — Washington became No. 1 in the nation for jailing noncriminal youth status offenders. Too many suffer the ill effects of this unnecessarily punitive and in effect racist law that so negatively impacts the trajectory of their lives.

It’s time to right this wrong. That’s why I am joining Khandelwal in her call for the state Legislature to pass Senate Bill 5290 in its original form, which would eliminate detaining runaways. Then we can begin focusing our energy on getting these kids that which they really need — help.

Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Seattle, Metropolitan King County Council, District 4

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