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Seattle's LEAD program keeps drug addicts out of jail

Is locking people up for low-level, non-violent criminal offenses the way to make our neighborhoods safer? Or is there a better way?

For the past five years, Seattle law enforcement has been experimenting with an alternative way of dealing with low-level drug and prostitution crimes in the Belltown neighborhood, as well as the Skyway area of unincorporated King County. Instead of booking suspects into jail, police have the option of diverting them into “community-based treatment and support services,” according to the website devoted to the program, which is called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD.

Services that officers can divert suspects into include housing, healthcare, mental health care and job training. The purpose, according to LEAD, is to reduce recidivism while also improving public safety and order in the targeted neighborhoods.

In the years it has been in effect, LEAD has drawn praise from the Obama administration, and inspired similar programs in other cities. The latest is San Francisco, where officials are working on a diversion program called Assistance Before Law Enforcement, or ABLE.

Supporters say that treating drug addiction like a disease instead of a criminal offense helps people break the cycle of addiction, while simultaneously saving money. As the San Francisco public defender said in a news article, many low-level offenders end up in an addiction program after spending a month or two in jail. It would seem that putting them in treatment right away would save time and money.

Despite LEAD’s existence, getting arrested on drug charges is something to take very seriously. You should find a defense attorney as soon as possible.

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