The Marysville Municipal Jail is pictured Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The Marysville Municipal Jail is pictured Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Marysville weighs mandatory jail time for repeated ‘public disorder’

The “three strikes” proposal sets a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail for crimes like public drug use and trespassing.

MARYSVILLE — A proposed ordinance in Marysville would set mandatory minimum jail sentences for crimes like public drug use and trespassing.

The proposal could be up for a City Council vote next month.

The legislation sets a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail after someone commits three “public disorder crimes” — defined by the law as any one of the following: third-degree theft, vehicle prowling, trespassing and public drug use.

The minimum jumps to 60 days with five of the qualifying crimes, or 90 days with seven offenses.

The measure is the result of a collaboration between Mayor Jon Nehring, City Attorney Jon Walker and Police Chief Erik Scairpon.

In an interview, Nehring stressed the current draft was just preliminary, so the qualifying crimes could change.

The mayor said the final version of the law could also incorporate diversion programs or an option to go into treatment before serving the full sentence.

The proposed ordinance, he said, could be “an important tool” to deal with the fentanyl epidemic. Nehring said people seem to be committing the same low-level crimes repeatedly to feed a drug addiction.

The local law could send a message to those committing crimes over and over that “this is going to be handled differently from now on,” the mayor said.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws are controversial. The American Civil Liberties Union has ardently opposed the policy elsewhere.

“Incarceration itself is incredibly disruptive to people’s lives,” said Jazmyn Clark, the Smart Justice campaign policy program director for the ACLU of Washington. “You’re talking about a potential loss of employment, loss of housing, loss of the custody of their children, loss of any type of government resources.”

Locking people up doesn’t address the underlying issues, like addiction or poverty, she argued.

“We cannot punish people into recovery,” Clark said, adding public officials should invest in treatment facilities, services and diversion programs instead.

Laws against public drug use also disproportionately impact the homeless, she said, given people with homes have the option of using drugs privately.

At a council meeting this month, the city attorney said it was a conscious decision to specify public drug use, not possession, in the proposal.

“It’s one thing if you got your crack in your pocket walking across Comeford Park, very different if you’ve got it in your crack pipe smoking it while kids are playing on the playground,” Walker said.

Walker and Scairpon weren’t available for comment Friday.

The law firm Feldman & Lee, which contracts with the city to do public defense work, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

For Nehring, the new Marysville Municipal Jail “is not the type of jail that you saw on TV all these years.”

Jail “is the closest thing to a treatment facility that some of these people will get if they aren’t willing to voluntarily go into one,” he said, noting people in jail receive medical care and could potentially continue from there into addiction treatment.

After three convictions, Nehring said, “you’ve demonstrated that you’re just not in a position to make the type of decisions that’ll make you a healthy functioning member of society.”

“So we need to break that cycle,” he added.

On Friday, there were 44 people in the Marysville jail. It has a total capacity of 96 beds.

At the Sept. 5 council meeting, Scairpon said the jail’s average daily population is 23.

Cmdr. Robb Lamoureux said in an email the jail’s embedded social worker team can begin getting people access to resources, like treatment, while they’re in jail.

He said the jail has a nurse who can administer a medication-assisted treatment program.

“When we’re talking about breaking the cycle of addiction for those that are incarcerated, the average length of stay in our jail is just 5.5 days,” Lamoureux wrote. “Not nearly enough time for an individual to become sober.”

Lamoureaux added “it’s also important to remember, not all of those who continue to victimize our community members with their crimes are substance addicted, but rather choose crime as a means to gain at the expense of others.”

Several council members signaled support for the proposed ordinance at the Sept. 5 council meeting.

“I think it sends the message that we don’t tolerate this here,” City Council President Kamille Norton said. “And obviously what’s been happening, it just isn’t really working.”

City Council member Mark James raised concerns about taking away a judge’s discretion in sentencing.

“I’m a law-and-order dad, I got three kids in law enforcement, no problem with that,” he said. “But I think about having some latitude or compassion for kids that might get caught up in something.”

Walker responded that “mandatory minimums are designed to really send a message,” but acknowledged it comes at the expense of discretion.

“This is a policy decision for counsel,” he said.

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035;; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

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