Probation Counselors at the Seattle Municipal Court dedicate their days to moving their clients away from the circumstances that landed them in court, towards a productive, healthy, and fulfilling life. They are case workers, connecting clients to crucial services such as housing, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, job resources, and much more. For these union members of PROTEC17, it’s a vocation more than a job.
Many of these jobs, and the good they do, are now at risk. Seattle’s Municipal Court recently proposed cutting 25 percent of their Department’s budget. These cuts would handicap the Probation Counselors, disturb their clients’ path to rehabilitation, and harm the communities we all live in. To save this vital work, the Counselors are mobilizing urgently to reverse these cuts.
“We recognize that the criminal justice system needs changes, and we’re all on board with those,” said Levi Gonzalez, a Counselor whose position is on the chopping block. “None of us are working here because we’re wanting to throw people in jail. I’ve never recommended jail as an option. The caseload is really huge and I’m concerned that losing staff will increase caseloads. I have 400 people right now.”
The proposed cuts would eliminate decades of experience supervising and assisting clients struggling with mental health, substance abuse issues, and simply reintegrating into a productive, safe life. And, significantly, the cuts would fall on those with critical community ties and experience — the impacted employees are disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
Torrance Green, a 16-year veteran who is not slated to be laid off, highlighted these impacts.
“Because of these cuts, I am being moved out of mental health counseling where I’ve worked for many years,” said Green. “I am the only person of color that is currently working in mental health and I think it helps me connect with clients when they see my face.”
The Counselors have been mobilizing against the cuts with their union, PROTEC17, since they received notice in September. Their goal is to raise awareness of the impacts of these cuts and convince the Court to reverse its decision to lay off employees. In addition to direct discussions with Court officials, the Counselors organized a letter-writing campaign to the Presiding Judge, City Council Members, and Mayor Durkan. They also recently spoke with a KIRO 7 reporter, who unfortunately surrounded their stories about the value of their work with some fear-based comments.
Instead, as the Probation Counselors have shared, restoring these positions should be understood as part of a necessary process of realigning the criminal justice system. This goal was at the forefront when the Martin Luther King Labor Council recently urged through a resolution “that the Court reverse its decision to cut Programs and Services by 25%, and, instead immediately begin the process of engaging the community, including clients and rank and file Probation Counselors, to transition the entire municipal court system to align with the powerful call for a reimagined public safety system.”