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February 09, 2022

Midyear 2022: BLM movement spurs fresh justice system alternative

The decade-old Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program is again at the forefront of discussions on criminal justice reform in the wake of the Black Lives Matter and social justice protests that swept across the country in the summer of 2020.

LEAD was established in 2011, developed to address the racial disparities identified in Seattle’s drug-related arrests and sentencings, according to one of its founders, attorney Lisa Daugaard, who is the co-executive director of policy for the Public Defender Association in Seattle and a speaker on an upcoming American Bar Association panel.

 “The Lawyers' Role in Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Programs” will be held Feb. 11 during the ABA Virtual Midyear Meeting.

LEAD allows law enforcement officers to redirect offenders in low-level crimes such as drug use or prostitution into community-based services, instead of jail and prosecution.

“The program’s creation was seen as a new way of approaching the real issues that are involved with drug use and drug sales,” says Daugaard, who remains involved with Seattle’s LEAD program.

“By diverting eligible individuals to services, LEAD is committed to improving public safety and public order and reducing the criminal behavior of people who participate in the program.”

According to Daugaard, LEAD reduced recidivism by 22%.

“When it’s done well the program is a tangible alternative response to the real problems that are associated with drug use and drug sales and associated criminal activity that has a role for police and prosecutors but not a primary role,” she says.

Police officers, who are the first point of contact with offenders, have the discretion to refer a person to LEAD.

Police and prosecutors work closely with LEAD case managers to ensure that all contacts with LEAD participants going forward, including new criminal prosecutions for other offenses, are coordinated with the service plan for the participant to maximize the opportunity to achieve behavioral change.

“It’s a shift from a mass-incarceration response to the ‘war on drugs’ to a community-based care response, without ignoring that police and prosecutors have an enormous amount of contact with people who fall into those categories,” says Daugaard.

LEAD has been adopted in some form in at least 40 states.

The Black Lives Movement has created an opening to radically rethink how communities across the country pursue public health, order, safety and equity. With the protests came demands to defund police departments and to dismantle an over-reliance on policing and the legal system. To meet this transformative moment, the flagship LEAD program in Seattle is now known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion/ Let Everyone Advance with Dignity.

“We were considering the name change before all the protests began,” says Daugaard. “There was some confusion in some sectors about the role of LEAD and its ongoing relevance because of the program name. The new model is designed to facilitate a shift away from a prominent role of law enforcement as gatekeepers to LEAD services.”

Daugaard will be joined on the ABA Midyear panel by other pioneers in the implementation of the flagship LEAD program in Seattle — King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and Leandra Craft, a King County deputy prosecutor who focuses her work on alternatives to incarceration and prosecuting hate crimes.

The panelists will share the promising outcomes from their alternative to traditional criminal prosecution and offer strategies for adoption using lessons learned from the various jurisdictions that was successfully replicated LEAD practices.

Daugaard says that while LEAD has been a successful treatment model, proper investment is needed when replicating it elsewhere.

Seattle’s LEAD is among the largest of its kind in the country, but it still hasn’t expanded enough in the area to serve all the people who need it – leading some to incorrectly raise questions about the program’s efficacy, says Daugaard.

It takes proper funding for LEAD to meet its intended goals, she cautions. “If we are really going to make a change, you have to have resource on a whole different scale.”

The program is sponsored by the ABA Criminal Justice Section.