A New Approach in Baltimore: Treatment Instead of Arrests

The Baltimore City Police Deparment in partnership with the Open Society Institute-Baltimore will launch the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in 2016 to help divert drug abusers into treatment and out of jail.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

The program, scheduled to begin in early 2016, will be funded by a $200,000 grant from the Open Society Institute-Baltimore that will pay for staffing, evaluation, screening and equipment over the next year. The logistics of the program are still being worked out, but Martin said it will be modeled after the Seattle program.

There, officers divert low-level drug and prostitution offenders with substance abuse problems into community-based treatment and support services such as housing, job training and mental health support.

Offenders sign an agreement with the prosecutor’s office to get help and achieve certain goals. If they fail, an arrest warrant is issued and they are charged with the original offense, said Patrick Michaud, a spokesman for the Seattle police.

“This is for people who need it and are crying out for help,” Michaud said. “This is a carrot to motivate yourself to move forward. If that doesn’t work out, the criminal justice system is there for you.”

He said the program is restricted to nonviolent offenders and excludes those involved in more serious offenses such as dealing drugs.

Local partners in Baltimore include Behavioral Health System Baltimore and the state’s attorney’s office.

The article reports that the Baltimore program is modeled after a program that began in Seattle in 2011:

Martin was impressed by Seattle’s LEAD program. “It made a huge difference in the downtown community,” she said.

Martin said some Seattle officers were skeptical about the new approach. “It was mind-boggling for them to know [offenders] are doing something, but instead of arresting them, they would get them treatment,” she said. Eventually, she said, officers came to support the program.

Offenders in the program were 60 percent less likely to commit another offense than a control group that went through the usual enforcement practice, according to a University of Washington study published in March.

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Sun.