Seattle Program to Keep Low-Level Drug Offenders Out of Jail Shows Promise

A Seattle program designed to keep low-level drug offenders and prostitutes out of jail is showing promise, a preliminary study suggests. The program, called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), provides housing, counseling, job training and other services.

Participants are not threatened with jail time, or with being kicked out of the program if they relapse, the Associated Press reports. After three years, participants were up to 60 percent less likely to be arrested within six months of enrolling in LEAD, compared with a control group.

The program enrolled 203 people between October 2011 and July 2014. Instead of being booked, they were referred to a case manager. Many were given vouchers for motel rooms, food, clothing, drug treatment and job training, the article notes.

Criteria for being eligible to participate included having no serious violent crimes in their past, not exploiting minors in drug dealing, and not engaging in drug dealing for profit above a subsistence level. Participants were compared with a group of 115 people who could have qualified for the program, but were not given the chance because they were arrested outside the area covered by the program, or because they were arrested on certain designated police shifts.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, launched a program modeled on LEAD last year. Albany, New York, plans to launch a similar program next year. Many other cities, including Houston, Atlanta, San Francisco and Portland, Maine, have expressed interest in starting LEAD programs.

One of the supporters of Seattle’s program, billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, announced last week it will give five jurisdictions grants of $150,000 to launch similar programs.

The Seattle program began with money from private foundations, with a budget of $800,000 annually for four years. In the past two years, the city has matched the annual contributions.