LEAD Offers a New Approach to the Drug War

The American criminal justice system can be a frustrating and costly revolving door: repeat offenders get knee-jerk “hook and book” treatment, serve jail time and return to the street. When courts and correctional centers are overwhelmed by repeat, low-threat offenders whose behaviors are not improving, it's clear that this model isn’t working.

There better way. LEAD, or Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, was piloted in Seattle and King County, Washington in 2011. Today, five agencies across the United States run a version of LEAD and dozens more are readying for their own launch.

LEAD is an innovative, six-year-old program to divert certain low-level offenders away from the standard criminal justice pipeline. The success of the program is spreading across the country. If you're in a jurisdiction straining to process low-threat cases, it's worth examining.

Premise and Results

Some offenders aren't served by the standard criminal justice cycle. With participation from prosecutors and community officials, law enforcement officers can steer certain arrestees toward a spectrum of support services, often including housing and drug treatment. They get a plan for personal change and case managers to help them stick to it.

LEAD is nothing if not pragmatic. An offender with a drug habit isn't made to quit cold turkey, for example, but is encouraged to stop committing crimes to support that addiction.

And the methods are effective. Seattle LEAD participants were 58% less likely to be arrested than offenders going through an alternate system. LEAD also improves police-community relations and reduces courtroom backlogs. It's a win-win, which is why so many law enforcement agencies are warming up to the idea.

Collaboration and Modern Technology

However, LEAD is a massively multilateral system that requires input from various parties: police, public defenders, district attorneys, case managers, housing and health authorities, non-profits and court and correctional officials, to name a few! All must coordinate to track and support offenders as they make their way through the LEAD program. It means that agencies are learning to connect with each other in new ways.

Some jurisdictions just aren't set up for LEAD from a technology standpoint. For example, many police departments struggle with archaic legacy systems; often, they keep vital records using generic spreadsheets rather than sophisticated systems. Because LEAD requires that sensitive data be handled by many different parties (such as HIPAA information relating to an individual's health), less advanced technology simply doesn't work.

You can get the most innovative law enforcement and justice departments enthusiastic about the benefits of the LEAD program. But if they can't support LEAD from an IT standpoint, those benefits are much more difficult to achieve.

At Tribridge, we see LEAD's power to change lives and improve communities. We are in full support of the program. LEAD is truly poised to transform criminal justice outcomes nationwide, but requires forward-thinking public officials and innovative technology to get those parties connected.

Learn more about the work that we are doing to facilitate secure, real-time data sharing in the public sector with Tribridge Offender360 and how the solution supports LEAD initiatives.

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