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For Immediate Release

April 11, 2016



Lisa Daugaard 206-852-6046                                                                                

gabriel sayegh 646-335-2264


New National Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Project Launches to Support Cities and Counties Across the U.S. in Improving Public Safety and Public Health

LEAD National Support Bureau to Support Jurisdictions Replicating Evidence-Based Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program – LEAD
Innovative and Transformative LEAD Approach Grows as Alternative Model to Failed Drug War Approach and Broken Criminal Justice System Cycle


SEATTLE: Today, the Public Defender Association and the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice ‎announced the formation of the LEAD National Support Bureau‎ as a‎ response to the increasing national demand for support of much needed, evidence-based alternatives to the normal – and broken -- criminal justice system cycle. Rather than an individual being arrested, booked, and processed in the criminal justice system, in Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs, police divert individuals to trauma-informed care provided in a harm reduction framework, improving public safety and public order by reducing law violations by people who participate in the program.


The Bureau will provide strategic guidance and technical support to interested local jurisdictions developing LEAD programs. Over 40 jurisdictions around the country are exploring or developing such programs, and many are already drawing on the LEAD National Support Bureau and its partners for hands-on guidance and assistance.


As the United States addresses the urgent crisis of mass criminalization and mass incarceration, and as communities seek alternatives to the failed war on drugs, there is a clear need to find viable, effective new approaches. LEAD represents a new harm-reduction oriented process for responding to low-level offenses such as drug possession, sales, petit larceny, and sex work. With more and more communities expressing interest in LEAD, the LEAD National Support Bureau will assist communities nationwide in developing viable, effective alternatives.


"There’s been a remarkable response nationally to the emergence of LEAD, which many see as a partial answer to the question 'what comes after the war on drugs?' LEAD does not hold all the answers, but it works much better than other known options, and it has begun to re-frame and transform relationships between segments of our city that not too long ago were bitterly opposed,” said Lisa Daugaard, Director of the Public Defender Association. “Done well, it transforms policing and it saves lives. We know better than anyone, however, that building a viable LEAD program is challenging. There are certain core principles that characterize a program that has the capacity to be transformative. The Bureau will assist jurisdictions that want to give this the best possible chance to deliver on its promise."


Based in Seattle, with offices in New York and Hartford, the Bureau is a partnership between the Public Defender Association and the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. The Bureau is led and staffed by members of a team of public health and justice system veterans who designed the original Seattle LEAD program, and others who have now launched LEAD in other jurisdictions. The Bureau draws on the expertise of prosecutors, police, case managers, service providers and community public safety leaders who are now using LEAD.


LEAD was developed and launched in Seattle, WA in 2011 in an attempt to move away from the war on drugs paradigm and to reduce gross racial disparities in police enforcement. LEAD was the result of an unprecedented collaboration between police, prosecutors, civil rights advocates, public defenders, political leaders, mental health and drug treatment providers, housing providers and other service agencies, and business and neighborhood leaders -- working together to find new ways to solve problems for individuals who frequently cycle in and out of the criminal justice system under the familiar approach that relies on arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. Other communities, including Santa Fe, NM, and Albany, NY, have also launched LEAD programs, while many other jurisdictions are in development.


“It’s clear that the war on drugs has failed, and that we must end mass incarceration, and while reform is slow at the Federal and State level, cities are demonstrating real leadership in developing practices for a post-drug war world,” said Lorenzo Jones, co-founder and co-director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. “As a program, LEAD has proven to be effective at reducing recidivism and promoting greater trust and collaboration between diverse stakeholders. As a process, LEAD is a promising tool to advance health, equity, and justice in communities large and small. The Bureau and our partners look forward to supporting communities around the country in working for sensible reforms.”


It is important that innovations like LEAD be made available to the populations that suffered the most serious harm during the discredited drug war: people of color, particularly Black people, whose drug involvement due to addiction or economic hardship has been far more heavily criminalized and punished than that of other racial groups. Though LEAD arose from the effort to combat racial disparity in drug enforcement in Seattle, it has gained popularity nationally during a period when white communities are experiencing a heroin and opiate crisis and understandably are calling for alternatives to prosecution and prison. The LEAD National Support Bureau will therefore emphasize practices that ensure the benefits of this new paradigm are extended to all racial groups, and that LEAD works to reduce racial inequities in the justice system.


The Bureau is available to communities around the country to consult, share tools and materials, host and provide site visits, and facilitate peer-to-peer guidance to jurisdictions and funders seeking to build effective LEAD projects. 



Responses from Stakeholders:


“Drug and addiction issues go beyond law enforcement, and require a collaborative approach between agencies to find a solution,” said Chief Kathleen O’Toole, Seattle Police Department. “In Seattle, LEAD is showing results at building a more efficient criminal justice system and a stronger, safer community. Establishing a National Support Bureau for LEAD will support jurisdictions that underscore prevention and intervention as means to harm reduction.”


"LEAD has been a great experience for the Sheriff's Office, but it's not easy to structure a police diversion program that truly works for the police, for the community, and for the individuals receiving services,” said Sheriff John Urquhart, King County Sheriff's Office. “The staff of the LEAD National Support Bureau are the national experts on how to pull that off. Working with the Bureau will allow other jurisdictions to benefit from the expertise accumulated during the early years of LEAD operations in the earliest sites to adopt this approach."


“We most effectively promote public safety by providing the community with a coordinated system of health and human services --- NOT by treating drug use as an intolerable crime and relying upon the mass incarceration of our people,” said Dr. Alice Green, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Justice. "The Bureau will continue to assist jurisdictions across the country in adopting an evidence-based model that addresses underlying issues, stops a problematic cycle, and achieves better outcomes in both public safety and public health."


"Formalized law enforcement assisted pre-booking diversion is an evidence based and fiscally prudent alternative,” said George Gascón, District Attorney, City and County of San Francisco, “It is imperative that we continue the national conversation about innovation in this area, and we are extremely excited to participate in a "learning collaborative" to be convened by the LEAD National Support Bureau to share experiences and problem-solving with counterparts from other jurisdictions wrestling with the same challenges."


"The Bureau is exactly what is needed to promote transformation and justice in law enforcement," says Xochitl Bervera, director of the Racial Justice Action Center based in Atlanta, GA. "From Seattle to Atlanta, Santa Fe to Philadelphia, residents and law enforcement agencies alike are acknowledging that the old way of trying to arrest yourself out of every problem has failed and that we need new models, new methods, new policies. The Bureau is what will help jurisdictions create those new ways and work with them to succeed."


“LEAD gives law enforcement the unique opportunity to engage in a harm reduction model that address the ills of addiction, mental health, and homelessness as a public health issue, all while reducing recidivism,” said Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox. "We are excited to continue our collaboration with the LEAD National Support Bureau, so that officers around the country can have an important tool to effectively divert individuals away from the criminal justice system and into the services that they need.” 


"This willingness to share an effort to assist other cities will make the LEAD National Support Bureau a vital resource, not only for Baltimore, but for an entire cohort of cities across the country which are beginning to plan and implement LEAD models," said Daniel Atzmon of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice in Baltimore, Maryland.


“LEAD is about individual and community wellness and is proving to be an important collaborative, cross-sector solution we need to improve public health and safety,” said Emily Kaltenbach, Senior Director for Criminal Justice Reform Strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance. “However, the success of LEAD hinges on the fidelity of certain core principles. The LEAD National Support Bureau has the expertise and is committed to helping other jurisdictions build effective programs rooted in those principles.”


“As a direct recipient of technical assistance from the Seattle LEAD Program, Louisville Metro can certainly attest to the invaluable information and support we have received to date and the importance of [the Bureau] making this assistance available to numerous jurisdictions across the country that are interested in replicating the program,” said Kim M. Allen, Executive Director of the Metro Criminal Justice Commission in Louisville, Kentucky.




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