Snohomish County not booking some drug addicts into jail

Eric Wilkinson reports.

EVERETT, Wash. — Joel Hodges is no stranger to the Snohomish County Jail, but he says the last two times he was picked up on warrants he wasn’t even arrested.

“Basically they say if we get arrested, the jail is just gonna release us anyway,” said the 23 year old. “If you have felony charges, they’ll hold you. Otherwise they just let us walk.”

It’s happening all over Snohomish County.

Late last year Sheriff Ty Trenary decided to stop booking non-violent misdemeanor offenders into the jail if they have serious drug problems. Faced with mounting criticism over 13 deaths at the jail in the past five years and an epidemic of heroin use, the sheriff decided the jail isn’t equipped to handle so many hardcore addicts.

“If we don’t have a detox facility, and we don’t, it’s irresponsible to say I’ll put them in jail and hopefully they’ll survive,” said Trenary.

The policy, however, is frustrating cops across the county. Arrest reports obtained by KING 5 News show suspects routinely being released by the jail because of their addictions. These are shoplifters, car prowlers and people intoxicated in public – people like Joel Hodges, who say they’d actually be better off in jail.

“I can go get in trouble and they’re gonna release me. What am I gonna do that same day? Gonna go right back out and get in trouble,” said Hodges.

The sheriff says addicts aren’t just dumped back out on the streets. They’re seen by a jail nurse and then taken to a doctor. If that doctor deems the suspect stable enough to be incarcerated, he or she is. And while some may walk free that day, everyone still ends up in court.

“This is not a get out of jail free card,” said Trenary. “If you commit a crime and put people at risk, we’re like Motel 6. We’ll leave the light on for you.”

But sources tell KING 5 the policy has created a climate where police aren’t bothering to arrest addicts for low level crimes because it’s seen as a waste of time. It’s creating the strange situation where some on the street think the sheriff should be locking more people up, but right now he isn’t willing to take that chance.

“We’ve got to do something in this county that doesn’t just involve using the jail every single time for a solution,” said Trenary.

“Sometimes, though,” said Hodges, “all it takes is a day or two in jail, getting that clear thought, and for some people it could change their life.”

Compounding the problem is the fact that there are only 16 detox beds in all of Snohomish County. Of the 2,600 beds at the jail, only 36 of them are reserved for people with mental illness, health or drug problems. Trenary has instituted quite a few changes at the jail since taking office last year, including more health workers and a special module for more serious offenders who are dealing with addictions.

He says, however, his policy isn’t likely to change until the county as a whole has a better plan to deal with its addiction epidemic and the problems that go along with it.