King County prosecutor candidates discuss criminal justice issues facing the region

Jim Ferrell and Leesa Manion clash over restorative justice programs in the county.

On July 21, the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County hosted a forum featuring the candidates running for King County prosecuting attorney in the November general election.

This year’s race for the position will be one of the most competitive elections for the position — and it’s in the wake of the retirement of 14-year incumbent Dan Satterberg.

Satterberg’s current chief of staff, Leesa Manion, is running for his position against current Federal Way Mayor and former King County Deputy Prosecutor Jim Ferrell.

During the forum, both candidates gave voters a glimpse of their political platforms and their stated priorities for the position.

During the forum, Manion touted a wide array of endorsements from local Democrat Party organizations, as well as a plethora of currently serving Democratic state legislators whose districts intersect in King County. She also has been endorsed by more than a dozen retired judges from across the region.

Ferrell talked of endorsements from several police unions that represent officers from communities like Bellevue, Seattle, Kent, Federal Way and the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Ferrell has tried to position himself as the “pro-police” candidate and reiterated several points and priorities during the forum that included adding more law enforcement officers in unincorporated parts of the county and working to clarify the terms of the new police pursuit laws, which he believes hinders their ability to investigate crime.

Manion agreed that the region was in need of more police officers and resources, but also emphasized the need for a “reimagining” of the mental health care system and urged the state legislators that support her to reform how involuntary treatment works in the court system and to implement a more “collaborative” approach to getting people the mental health care they need before they become perpetrators or victims of crime.

Among Ferrell’s grievances with the current prosecutor’s office, he expressed frustration with the thousands of backlogged criminal cases that have yet to see trial in King County. Manion attributed this to the pandemic conditions and other regulations set by higher courts. Ferrell also accused the current office of not working with local mayors — something he said he had personally experienced.

Manion maintained that as chief of staff for the prosecutor’s office, her team worked to build partnerships, and she mentioned communities in Seattle that she claimed had reduced crime rates over the course of her work.

One issue this election season is restorative justice and programs that divert criminal offenders away from incarceration in favor of community justice programs like King County’s Restorative Community Pathways — a program that enrolls youth offenders of certain crimes to avoid court and incarceration instead for what had been advertised as a more community-centric approach to justice and rehabilitation.

“I have seen the power of working with communities to build proven and effective diversion programs. That is why juvenile crime, including police referrals, is at an all-time low,” Manion said in reference to the county’s implementation of Restorative Community Pathways. “When you go upstream and address root causes, you have a return on investment and a lasting impact.”

In the past, Ferrell and other South King County mayors have criticized Restorative Community Pathways for allowing offenders of certain kinds of assault and possession of firearms to avoid court and jail time. During the forum, Ferrell emphasized the need for “transparency” and “accountability” for the program.

“[Restorative Community Pathways] was launched, again, without any notice to the cities in King County, but it also included being eligible offenses of bringing a gun to school, unlawful possession of a firearm second degree, residential burglary, commercial burglary, felony harassment, car theft, and dozens more,” Ferrell said during the forum. “Clearly, we want to make sure people get back on track, but they have got to appear before a judge, they have got to get a case number, and we need to make sure they actually showed up and did what they were asked and required to do.”

Manion said that contrary to Ferrell’s claim, the Restorative Community Pathways program was launched with notice to cities and communities in the region. She said that some of the charges listed by Ferrell may seem violent and severe, but in real life, those charges could be filed against a juvenile for typical youth mischief such as a school fight or stealing a backpack.

She also maintained that under current state laws, a young offender would have to commit five offenses before they could be subject to juvenile detention — suggesting that Restorative Community Pathways may be a more efficient way to reach some type of justice for victims and perpetrators.

Check it out

Sound Publishing will host a forum featuring candidates for King County prosecutor at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Carco Theater, 1717 Maple Valley Highway, Renton, WA 98057.