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Colorado’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program

Colorado’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program aims to help those struggling with addiction rather than punishing them with prison time.

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If people are arrested for low-level drug crimes, they have the option to participate in community-based care rather than cycling through the criminal justice system.

What Is a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (LEAD)?

LEAD, or Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, is a pre-booking diversion program that operates in communities to address low-level drug offenders and prostitution.

LEAD allows law enforcement agents to place low-level drug offenders in community-based services as opposed to prosecuting and incarcerating them. LEAD programs are committed to maintaining public order and improving public safety.

Ultimately, jailing individuals for low-level drug offenses costs a lot of money and doesn’t usually reduce recidivism rates, or the number of people who commit the crime again. Instead, providing treatment to these low-level offenders has been shown to reduce recidivism, cost less, and improve public safety.

Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), offering this kind of comprehensive treatment has been clearly shown to reduce rates of drug abuse in the community and lower crime rates at the same. This care also improves workplace productivity, lowers health care costs, and keeps more families together.

The initial LEAD program started in Seattle, Washington, in 2011. The early successes of the Seattle program led other communities to adopt similar programs.

Members of LEAD Programs

LEAD includes law enforcement agents, public defenders, and other public health and justice system participants. Case managers and community public health leaders also work to implement the program.

What Is the Basic Process?

In LEAD programs, arresting police officers are able to make a decision during the initial contact with the offender (low-level drug user or person involved in prostitution). They can choose to divert the person into a community-based or intervention program.

Instead of placing the person in detention (jail), prosecuting them, convicting them, and incarcerating them, the police officer can refer them to a case management program to address substance abuse, trauma, and stress-related problems.

People in the program often get treatment and transitional or permanent housing. Police officers, prosecutors, and case managers work closely together to ensure that the program participants progress appropriately. Participants are given the opportunity to change and improve their lives.

Overall Objectives of the LEAD Program

LEAD programs work to achieve the following objectives:

  • Alter and reorient the goals and relationship of the community and law enforcement agents to a more positive working relationship
  • Improve access to funding or alternate interventions for low-level offenders
  • Reduce disparities based on race, economic status, sex, and so forth in the initial process of the criminal justice system
  • Reduce the number of people entering the criminal justice system for low-level offenses, like drug use offenses or prostitution
  • Reduce the number of people entering the criminal justice system from lower socioeconomic status or with mental health issues
  • Maintain the safety of the public based on a harm-reduction and health-oriented approach
  • Improve local government’s response to health-related problems and victimless criminal offenses

How Is the Success of a LEAD Program Evaluated?

The overall success of these programs is primarily evaluated by the number of repeat offenders admitted to the programs. Other factors may also be considered, but reducing recidivism rates is considered to be the best indicator that the program is having an impact.

Colorado’s LEAD Program

Colorado’s Office of Behavioral Health was granted $2.3 million on an annual basis for three years beginning in 2017 to develop as many as four pilot LEAD programs. The programs will be evaluated following the three-year period. Requests for additional funding will be approved based on the effectiveness of the programs.

The funding began on April 1, 2018. It continues until June 30, 2020 when the program will be reevaluated.

Several communities were allowed up to $570,000 a year to operate pilot LEAD programs for a three-year term. The money came from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund (39-28.8-501 C.R.S). The following communities were granted these funds:

  • City of Alamosa
  • City of Longmont
  • Denver County
  • Pueblo County

Populations Served by Colorado’s LEAD Program

The populations served by the Colorado LEAD program have been identified as adults who are at risk for low-level offenses related to substance abuse and prostitution. These adults have been repeat offenders, so in most cases, they are known to law enforcement agents.

Goals of Colorado’s LEAD Program

Goals will be assessed to determine the efficiency of the LEAD program in Colorado. The specific goals are to:

  • Increase public safety.
  • Lower recidivism rates for low-level offenders.
  • Increase access to services for low-level offenders.
  • Reduce harm for those involved in the program.
  • Improve access to treatment and reduce incarceration for low-level offenders.

Services of Colorado’s LEAD Program

The case managers involved in the Colorado LEAD program provide intervention plans that are tailored to meet the needs of the individual. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach for everyone in the program.

The goal is to provide overall services that focus on harm reduction and address the specific situation. Referrals may be given for the following services, as appropriate:

  • Housing services (temporary or permanent housing)
  • Medical care
  • Substance use disorder treatment services
  • Mental health treatment services for co-occurring conditions
  • Family therapy
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Vocational training
  • Vocational placement services
  • Educational services
  • Legal assistance

Is the Program Successful?

Many of these programs are just getting off the ground, such as the one in Denver, Colorado. As a result, it’s too early to assess their success.

Funding restrictions only allow a small number of individuals to have access to the programs at a given time.

The hope is that LEAD will meet its goal of reducing recidivism in low-level offenders in Colorado and provide these individuals with the treatment they need to improve their lives. The coming years will illustrate the effectiveness of the LEAD program in reaching these goals.

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