Seattle Experiment Succeeds In Reducing Justice System “Frequent Fliers”


A three-year Seattle experiment is producing significant results by interrupting the cycle of arrest, prosecution and incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders, reports the Seattle Times. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program is working better than its creators had hoped, reducing recidivism rates by up to 60 percent for the poor, chronically homeless, low-level drug dealers, users and prostituted people it was designed to help. When LEAD was launched in 2011, no one knew if it would work, said Lisa Daugaard of the King County Public Defender Association, who worked with police and prosecutors to develop the innovative program.

Based on a harm-reduction model that drew from decades of public-health research, LEAD's architects were hopeful a new approach to dealing with low-level drug crimes would slow the number of frequent fliers who repeatedly cycle through the criminal-justice system. The results of a new statistically controlled evaluation by the University of Washington show that LEAD is having a statistically significant impact in reducing the likelihood of new arrests for program participants. Two additional studies will be released this year, comparing LEAD's costs to costs associated with utilizing the traditional criminal-justice system and analyzing the psychosocial, housing and quality-of-life outcomes for LEAD participants over time.

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