County official proposes criminal program: Pay fine, seek treatment or leave

Jun 18, 2024, 1:21 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2024, 8:04 am

Photo: US Highway 101 in Washington near Mason County....

US Highway 101 in Washington near Mason County. (Photo: Doug Kerr/@dougtone on Flickr )

(Photo: Doug Kerr/@dougtone on Flickr )

Mason County Commissioner Randy Neatherlin and Shelton City Council member George Blush are proposing a new program for people who commit misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor crimes sometimes associated with homelessness. According to Mason WebTV, criminals could have the option to leave the county to fulfill their punishment for their crimes.

The goal of the diversion program would be to save the public money and lower caseloads for legal staff, according to a statement from Neatherlin. Offenses include squatting, being intoxicated in public, opening using illegal substances, defecating in streets, stripping or having sex in public, malicious mischief, theft, accusing people and violating property rights, as stated by Mason WebTV.

“Our situations on the street have gotten much worse, especially in small rural towns,” Neatherline told KIRO Newsradio on Tuesday.

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The options for misdemeanor offenders, according to Neatherlin, would be:

  1. Plead guilty to a violation and pay $1,000 with at least 40 hours of community service.
  2. Immediately check themselves into a self-funded treatment facility.
  3. Voluntarily leave Mason County without returning for 180 days. If an offender returned, they would be prosecuted. If they did not return, the case would be dismissed.

For a gross misdemeanor, the options would be:

  1. Plead guilty to the violating and pay between $1,000 to $5,000, along with doing community service.
  2. Immediately check themselves into a self-funded treatment facility.
  3. Voluntarily leave Mason County for an entire year.

“The options would be, do the time, pay the fine, get rehab or maybe if it’s a low enough crime, leave,” Neatherlin explained to KIRO Newsradio.

He said the Mason Transit Authority already offers free bus rides for those leaving the county.

“Maybe we contract for better transportation but either way, this is cheaper than $300+ a day to hold them let alone pay to prosecute and defend them,” Neatherlin said in his statement.

He added that the county will provide a list of services and locations offered in surrounding counties but noted that relocation may not be ideal for Mason County’s neighbors.

“I believe that when relocated, they will establish new friends, new connections, new providers and, yes, new suppliers of their drug of choice,” Neatherlin continued in his statement. “I know this does not fix the person, but can we be expected to do that? Surrounding counties may not appreciate it, but I represent the people of Mason County. Protecting us must be my top priority.”

Neatherlin bristled at people calling this “exile.”

“It’s a choice that they can choose or they can go through the whole process and spend a year in jail,” he told KIRO Newsradio.

Some critics said this kind of plan just moves the problem elsewhere without addressing the root cause, to which Neatherlin said he can’t force someone to change but at least his citizens would be safe.

“It’s always going to be up to the individual,” he said. “People will say ‘Why don’t you put them through a different type of rehab?’ First of all, they have to want to, it doesn’t work if they don’t want to. No matter how much money you wanna throw at it.”

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In his statement, Neatherlin outlined why he and Blush, with the help of the sheriff’s department, public defenders, attorneys and judges came to the idea in the first place.

“This state repeatedly strips the consequences or makes it impossible to enforce laws needed to make working or living in our community safe,” Neatherlin said. “Things are about to get worse. New restrictions on public defenders’ caseloads will force the release of criminals due to an inability to provide public defenders.”

He added the program will hopefully provide new options and make a “real and effective legal difference.”

“This is a work in progress, not perfect, but we must start somewhere,” he stated.

Neatherliln told KIRO Newsradio the proposal is still being refined and has yet to be presented to the council.

Contributing: Charlie Harger, KIRO Newsradio and Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

Julia Dallas is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read her stories here. Follow Julia on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email her here.

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County official proposes criminal program: Pay fine, seek treatment or leave