The Baltimore Police Department, working with a local nonprofit organization, is planning an experimental program that would divert low-level drug offenders to treatment and support services while allowing them to avoid arrest, the Baltimore Sun reports. The program, known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), is part of a broader shift in Maryland and across the nation from the arrest-and-convict strategy that has dominated drug policies for the past half-century. “Criminalizing individuals with addiction is not the answer,” said Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s health commissioner, who is working with police on the program. “We must treat addiction as a disease and not a crime or a moral failing. LEAD is an innovative, evidence-based strategy that diverts people with addiction away from arrest and incarceration and instead gives them the medical treatment they need.”
The program is similar to alternatives, including drug court, that offer treatment instead of jail sentences to abusers. Offenders will get a chance to sidestep an arrest record that could harm their chances of obtaining jobs, housing and education. “What is unusual about this program is that there is no arrest at all,” said Diana Morris, of Open Society Institute-Baltimore, which is giving $200,000 to fund it. “That’s important because it allows those who have addiction problems to not have the arrest on their record or go through the revolving door of the criminal justice system.” The local LEAD program is modeled after one that began in 2011 in Seattle, where authorities also have struggled to deal with the city’s chronic drug problem.