What Makes Seattle's LEAD Program So Effective?

Seattle’s approach to drug crimes is both experimental and successful, according to new research

By Mary Velan
EfficientGov

Seattle’s approach to drug crimes is both experimental and successful, according to new research.

In the LEAD
Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD) started in 2011 as an experimental effort to reduce drug crimes and recidivism and has proven to be greatly successful. According to a new study evaluating the program, LEAD is outpacing more traditional criminal justice approaches to preventing drug-related crimes.

The University of Washington study analyzed the impact of the LEAD program on recidivism of participants involved. The researchers followed 203 people who received LEAD and compared their outcomes to those of 115 people in a control that went through a more traditional criminal justice system. The research found:

  • People in LEAD were 60 percent less likely than people in the control group to be arrested within the first 6 months of the evaluation
  • People in LEAD were 58 percent less likely than people in the control group to be arrested

pic

How It Works
Through the LEAD program, law enforcement officials have more options when patrolling streets and cracking down on drug crimes. When an officer catches someone involved in drug-related criminal activity, they can arrest the suspect and take them to jail or allow them to participate in a special social service program and forego jail.

The special social service program connects the suspect with a social worker who screens them for the LEAD program and eliminates all record of the arrest. The participant then receives:

  • Access to housing assistance
  • Clean clothes
  • Tuition for school
  • Job referrals
  • Health care
  • Counseling
  • Other benefits and services provided by the city

In exchange for this aid, participants must meet with the social worker twice in the first month.

Thus far, the program has received more than $5 million in funding from private foundations and the city of Seattle. Seattle has reported drug arrests fell more than 30 percent between 2010 and 2011, while local jail populations continue to decline.

The program was the result of collaboration between police, prosecutors, civil rights attorneys and social workers. All parties were interested in reducing recidivism and lowering the incidence of crimes related to the drug trade in the city. Furthermore, the services are designed to help perpetrators escape a drug-fueled cycle of crime by connecting them with job skills and resources to make a living.

Make It Your Own
Santa Fe, New Mexico, has followed Seattle’s lead and adopted the LEAD model in its local criminal justice system. While Seattle focused on local drug markets, Santa Fe’s concerns are opioid misuse, dependence and overdose, as well as the rising rate of property crime. The LEAD program in Santa Fe will be offered to individuals possessing or selling three grams or less of opioids.

Santa Fe was interested in targeting this population of perpetrators specifically as the city spends $1.5 million annually to criminalize people for these offenses. The average cost of these arrests, court proceedings, time in custody and supervision is $42,000. Furthermore, the top 100 property crime and drug offenders in the area have been arrested 590 times since 2010, spending a combined 11,500 days in jail. The LEAD program is expected to cut these costs in half and free up criminal justice resources for other projects.

About the author

Avatar

EfficientGov Staff

EfficientGov is an independent information service providing innovative solutions to fiscal and operational challenges facing cities and towns around the world.