On Tuesday, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced $2.8 million in awards for five community-based organizations to assist and intervene on behalf of individuals and communities experiencing disproportionate arrests and convictions related to the federal government’s “war on drugs”. Helped by recent State policy changes, King County is moving forward to support individuals who were incarcerated for activities that are no longer criminal offenses.
The grants, originally proposed by Constantine in his biennial budget in 2020, take proceeds from the King County Sheriff’s Office Marijuana Enforcement Revenue and direct them to groups that provide community-based supports and legal aid.
According to officials, this community-based project complements King County’s work to vacate and resentence cases affected by the Washington State Supreme Court State v. Blake ruling that found the state’s felony drug possession statute unconstitutional. The Prosecuting Attorney, Department of Public Defense, Superior Court, Department of Judicial Administration, and District Court are partnering on efforts to provide individuals with Blake convictions the legal and financial relief they are entitled to under the ruling, including record vacation, resentencing, and refunds of fines and fees.
“For decades, communities of color have unfairly borne the impacts of the federal government’s ‘war on drugs’ and this is part of how we begin to unwind the tangled roots of systemic racism in our communities,” said Constantine. “These grants represent another clear, tangible step forward by King County to empower communities and rectify the wrongs of disproportionate drug convictions.”
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay agrees and says that the allocation of funding is key step in helping to address the issue.
“The war on drugs has ravaged so many communities in our country, trapping generations of families in a cycle of poverty and trauma,” said Zahilay. “Today’s investment is a step in the right direction on the long journey toward healing and uplifting the specific King County communities who have been most impacted.”
A Request for Proposal (RFP) process sought applications from organizations that would join with King County to mitigate the impacts of drug law enforcement and criminalization on communities throughout King County, and particularly those communities disproportionately targeted by the war on drugs. This funding will equip organizations to connect individuals burdened by drug-related criminal records to the available means of relief including record vacation, record sealing, and direct financial support where appropriate.
The contracts will be coordinated through the King County Department of Community and Human Services, Adult Services Division. The agencies chosen through the competitive process are all organizations working within communities most impacted historically by the “war on drugs” and experiencing disproportionate arrests and convictions for marijuana and other drug-related actions. The agencies selected, the services they plan to provide, and the populations they will serve are as follows:
• African Community Housing and Development – $359,253 to provide holistic, culturally and linguistically relevant legal support and case management to vacate and seal records, help families knowledgeably navigate the justice system, and reenter the workforce throughout the region.
• Chief Seattle Club – $1,048,040 to support Native-led criminal legal system navigation, direct financial relief, and connection to holistic in-house supports.
• Freedom Project – $977,925 to support a Black-led regional pre-release approach to record vacation and direct financial relief via incarcerated paralegals and state level advocacy.
• Somali Community Services – $197,500 to provide direct financial relief, criminal legal system navigation, and outreach/education to Greater Seattle Somali community. • Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle – $217,282 to help provide culturally responsive criminal legal system navigation and education through in-house workshops and legal aid via connection to pro bono attorneys.