A Seattle-born drug diversion program being replicated across the country could soon be making its way to Capitol Hill. Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion was launched in 2011 and works by placing drug use suspects into counseling instead of jail.
On Thursday at 6:30 PM, the Capitol Hill Community Council will be hosting LEAD organizers at 12th Avenue Arts to talk about the program and the possibility of expanding it to Capitol Hill.
“Most of us who are operationally involved in LEAD think it makss sense for Capitol Hill to offer,” said Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association.
LEAD is currently available in downtown, Belltown, and in Skyway and is funded through a combination of public and private funding. The program is run through a partnership between City and County agencies and uses Evergreen Treatment Services for counseling.
Results from the program have been promising. LEAD participants were 87% less likely to be incarcerated after entry than those who didn’t participate, according to a 2-year study (PDF)of the program recently competed by the University of Washington. They also had 58% lower odds of a subsequent arrest after entry.
Participants were also far less of a burden on taxpayers than those that didn’t participate, resulting in an average of $2,100 in savings in the criminal justice system. On top of that, the Seattle Police Department has backed the program.
So far, around 350 people have participated in LEAD, which Daugaard said is still well short of the number it could serve. Short of having a recent violent offense conviction, most of those contacted by police for drug use or identified by the community as in need of help are eligible.
The program expanded from Belltown to downtown in 2014 and Daugaard said LEAD could come to Capitol Hill within a few months. While private funding for the program runs out this year, its likely that King County will pick up the tab. The program also uses Medicaid to pay for treatment.
Community partnerships with groups like neighborhood councils have been key in the program’s success, hence the CHCC meeting. Daugaard said the program is most suited for helping chronically homeless and addicted individuals who are well known to the community. In fact, most of the program’s referrals come from the community, non-police agencies, or from officers not actively on a call.
The incentives for participating are nuanced in these situations, but Daugaard said LEAD has built up enough of a good reputation on the street that most people participate if given the opportunity.
As a former public defender, Daugaard said one of the most surprising outcomes of the program is how motivated participants are to not let officers down who gave them a chance at diversion. Some officers have even started making LEAD referrals after booking people for other crimes that were clearly committed because of their addiction.
“That is genuine crime prevention,” Daugaard said. “(You’re) not preventing this crime, but going to prevent a future one.”