CINCINNATI, OHIO – This summer, Hamilton County will test a program that will let police reach out to drug users and other low-level offenders and, instead of jailing them, lead them to the skills and treatment they need to improve their lives.
Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote Thursday to approve the pre-arrest diversion program, an attempt to deal with the heroin and fentanyl epidemic while reducing the jail population.
The county program, which also will need approval from Cincinnati City Council, is modeled after one that started in Seattle in 2011. Called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), it has spurred 30 communities nationwide to adopt it. Another 70 are studying the program as a possibility for their cities.
Film looks at Seattle’s LEAD program, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion that gives chances to those with addiction. Provided by LEAD National Support Bureau, Seattle, Washington, Provided, LEAD National Support Bureau
In Seattle, police officers may use their discretion to refer individuals to case managers who are educated in trauma and its effects on people. The case managers are backed up by other staff to get a wide range of support services, each tailored to the individual.
“LEAD is about walking a long path with people, who often come from very grim circumstances, (to) help them become stabilized, healthy and have hope,” said Lisa Daugaard, who’s on staff of the LEAD National Bureau in Seattle. “Treatment is part of that journey, but it’s not the only need that people have.”
Hamilton County was granted $500,000 in federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act money to test the program. Alex Linser, chief of staff for county commission president Denise Driehaus, said the test program will start with one city police district, which has yet to be determined.
The money will largely go to boost the staff of Hamilton County Office of Reentry, which already aids people who leave jail, Linser said.
“People need their mental health and their substance abuse care,” said Trina Jackson, director of the reentry office. They may need help with food or clothing or employment or housing, she added.
But Jackson said the program will go beyond those basic needs.
“We want to build long-term relationships, and give them someone who they can reach out to,” she said. “We will help them with a life plan.”
The idea isn’t to funnel all low-level offenders into the program, Linser said.
“LEAD relies on the police officers’ use of discretion – just as they decide whether they’re going to give you a ticket or a warning” for a traffic violation, he said.
The Hamilton County Heroin Coalition has been discussing LEAD since 2017, with interdiction chief Lt. Tom Fallon advocating for it first. City and county officials have been in on the talks.
The diversion program is a way to shift police-community relations “away from a punitive model and towards community-based harm reduction strategies which ultimately prevent recidivism, improve public safety, reduce incarceration, and save government resources,” a November 2018 memo from the heroin coalition to community stakeholders said.
Seattle’s program is getting results.
The University of Washington analyzed the Seattle effort during 2015 and 2016 and found that the people who were getting LEAD services were about 60 percent less likely to be re-arrested than a control group of those who were not moved into LEAD.
Among other studies, an 18-month follow-up of participants showed they were much more likely to “obtain housing, employment and legitimate income” in any month after their referral and during those 18 months than one month before starting the program.
By: Terry DeMio
Published: March 8, 2019