ALBANY COUNTY — On Thursday, March 31, city and county officials and community leaders gathered at the Center for Law and Justice in Albany to mark the launch of an innovative Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program that will be the first of it’s kind in the Northeast — and only the third in the nation.
First launched in Seattle in 2011, the LEAD program is designed to reduce arrests, racial disparities and recidivism within the criminal justice system by allowing law enforcement officials to utilize options other than arrest for low-level criminal offenders. Instead of making an arrest, police officers will be able to exercise their discretion and divert individuals for certain criminal offenses, including low-level drug charges, directly to a case manager who then facilitates access to a “comprehensive network of services.” Rather than “entering the maze of the criminal justice system,” officials said that offenders can now receive “intensive, harm reduction-oriented case management and targeted social services, with greater coordination among systems of care.”
“Time and common sense have led us to the conclusion that our traditional law enforcement response to the chronic public health issues people face does not work,” said Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares. “Best practices dictate that we move in a different direction where public health and public safety merge. Law enforcement can no longer own the problem. Community assets must be leveraged to ensure the best public safety outcome. Safety is dramatically improved when the needs of people are being met. Millions of dollars are spent annually cycling the mentally ill, homeless and drug-addicted through the criminal justice system over and over, when far less could be spent to help them find housing, jobs and care, with far better results. LEAD will merge the public health and public safety communities, and actually save taxpayer dollars in the long run.”
Representatives from local law enforcement, public defense and human service agencies, businesses, community groups and public health departments have been working on the planning and development of the program for nearly two years. Thursday’s launch means Albany will move into the first phase of operation, making it the first jurisdiction on the East Coast, and only the third in the nation to launch the LEAD program. The program in Albany is unique in that case management functions will be supported by Albany Medical Center (AMC), through state funding dedicated to health care delivery reform. AMC’s investment in LEAD is representative of a larger ideological shift in how governments and health care providers are dealing with issues related to drug use and mental health—from a criminal justice based approach to a health-based approach.
“With today’s launch,” said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, “Albany becomes a national leader in smart criminal justice reform efforts by developing new solutions to the failed war on drugs.”