The Snohomish County Jail is pictured on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The Snohomish County Jail is pictured on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Everett council weighs minimum sentences for repeat offenders

Dozens of defendants per year could face a new 30-day penalty. Several City Council members questioned the cost and effectiveness.

EVERETT — The Everett City Council is considering an ordinance allowing prosecutors to seek a minimum 30-day jail sentence for people who repeatedly commit certain crimes, including assault, theft and public drug use.

The Everett proposal comes a couple months after Marysville adopted 30-day mandatory minimum sentences for “public disorder crimes.”

Defendants in Everett could face a minimum of 30 days in jail if they have two or more qualifying convictions in the two years before their new offense. The convictions would have to be in Snohomish County.

The following crimes would qualify for the enhancement: assault, harassment, theft, public drug use, trespassing, vehicle prowling, loitering for the purpose of engaging in drug related activity and criminal mischief for damaging another person’s property.

Prosecutors could choose to ask for the sentence enhancement if the case qualifies. The defendant could still end up entering a diversion agreement, like the city’s Mental Health Alternatives Program or Therapeutic Services Court.

“The vision is that it will be a tool to help drive people into diversions to avoid lengthy jail time,” assistant city attorney Lacey Offutt told the council in a briefing Wednesday.

If a defendant is struggling with addiction, she said, “the 30-day jail time will impose enough time for them to detox and make clear decisions about their future.”

City Council member Ben Zarlingo also said the law could ensure people who are dealing with addiction receive medical treatment for substance use disorder in jail, rather than being released when they haven’t fully detoxed. Short sentences can be dangerous for that reason, he noted.

The law shouldn’t impact the workload of judges or attorneys, Offutt said, but city staff expect a “short-term increase” in jail costs. Long-term, staff hope the measure will decrease jail fees by deterring crime and encouraging defendants to choose diversion or treatment programs.

Jail costs have been trending up this year as more people are serving time and sentences have gotten longer.

The city prosecutor’s office estimated about 30 defendants could be affected by the law each year, though Offutt cautioned that predicting future crime is difficult.

Council member Mary Fosse worried the 30-day minimum would take away judicial discretion and strain the city’s finances.

“For a city that has a budget deficit, I don’t understand why we are threatening longer sentences when we know that the outcomes of that generally aren’t forcing people into treatment,” she said.

Council member Paula Rhyne wanted to wait to consult with the county’s new sheriff, Susanna Johnson, about jail exit plans.

“It doesn’t matter how long we keep people in jail,” she said. “If they don’t have a plan for when they get out of jail, recidivism rates are going to continue to stay high.”

Prosecutors will likely not seek the sentence enhancement for defendants already participating in the city’s diversion programs, Offutt said. She noted the law was targeted at repeat offenders.

“If you’ve ever been on a phone with a victim of assault and described to them why a person who was the impetus behind the worst day of their life is only going to serve one or two days in jail,” she said, “you absolutely want to have another tool at your disposal.”

For Jazmyn Clark, the Smart Justice campaign policy program director for the ACLU of Washington, the Everett law is “focusing on the wrong part of the problem.”

A law like this won’t deter behavior, she said. Instead, she believes the focus should be on advocating for societal changes, like more affordable housing and robust mental health programs.

“It’s not about punishment and it never should be,” Clark said. The criminal legal system is “supposed to be about rehabilitation.”

The bill, she said, will disproportionally impact Everett’s homeless population. Charges like public drug use and trespassing are often leveled against those who have nowhere to go.

At the meeting Wednesday, council member Liz Vogeli questioned whether the law was directed specifically at drug use.

The law is “not about criminalizing homelessness or about criminalizing drug use,” Offutt said. “What it is about is recognizing that these specific crimes have an effect on people in the public, including other people who are suffering from substance use disorder and who are suffering from mental health struggles.”

The bill would be one tool, she said, to address these kinds of crimes.

A City Council vote is planned for Dec. 20.

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

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