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The majority of the population outside of Seattle, Washington would likely associate the city with its penchant for that steamy morning pick-me-up, coffee. Seattle, though, will soon be famous for something else entirely. Beginning in 2011, it launched the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, the success of which is changing the national conversation about how to end mass incarceration and the war on drugs.
As with other cities around the United States, Seattle residents, healthcare workers, business owners and local government officials were frustrated with the poor results of the war on drugs. Previous to LEAD’s debut, the city’s local drug war had only resulted in higher rates of incarceration marked by racial disparities along with no dent in illicit drug use and addiction.
A vast number of arrests made by police are low-level criminal offenders. These are individuals who more often than not suffer from addiction, mental illness, homelessness or all three issues.
With LEAD, instead of taking these offenders to jail, officers assign the person a case manager. Once in the program, case workers help to provide any number of useful human services.
What Services Does LEAD Provide?
- Housing, such as hotel rooms if necessary
- Mental health services
- Drug treatment
- Health care
- Job training
In order for LEAD to work, law enforcement, healthcare organizations, human service agencies, public defenders, community groups, elected officials and business leaders had to cooperate in order to create the process. The result of LEAD has been a decrease in incarnation, which saves money for the state and its taxpayers, as well as a more effective and compassionate approach to drug intervention.
With the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, individuals serve no time in jail, do not enter the court system or live with the threat of criminal prosecution if they relapse or become a repeat offender. If the program sounds too starry-eyed for anyone, it’s important to look at how well the program has worked thus far.
What are the Benefits of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion?
- Reduced recidivism rates by 60 percent
- Increased collaboration among city agencies and community leaders running LEAD, resulting in greater efficiency of services
- Research suggests LEAD has had a greater success than other diversion programs, such as the system of drug courts promoted by the current presidential administration
- Millions of dollars saved in emergency response, such as ambulances, hospital costs, police actions and legal defense
In an interview with The Oregonian, policy director at King County’s public defender association, Lisa Daugaard, said of LEAD, “This is a big deal – bigger reductions than are seen in almost any criminal justice interventions.” She summed her statement up by commenting, “This makes the case for [a] ‘system as usual’ process very weak.’
There are eligibility requirements for individuals to qualify for LEAD. Among them, participants cannot have a history of violent crime. Additionally, they must not have engaged in the exploitation of minors in any way, or dealt drugs for profit beyond a subsistence level.
In the past six months, Seattle’s LEAD has become the model for a successful drug diversion program, and there’s no shortage of followers. Santa Fe, New Mexico’s program launched last year, while Albany, New York’s will start next year. Numerous other cities, such as San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta and Portland have dipped their civic toes in the water and visited Seattle to learn about more about the program.
“Now that we know it works, I think the interest in this is just going to explode,” said Gabriel Sayegh, managing director of the Drug Policy Alliance based in New York.
For more information about the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), visit the website at: http://leadkingcounty.org
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