We have to extend kudos out to Albany County for the launch of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program last week.
Based on a 2013 report 2013 in the International Center for Prison Studies, our country possessed an incarceration rate of 716 per 100,000 citizens. That ranks the United States, the home of the free, first in the rate in which we place citizens behind bars.
Something doesn’t make sense.
From our vantage point, the proposed program does two things. First, in the case of low-level criminals, police officers can assess a situation. 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.”
Law enforcement agencies have been scrutinized over the past several years, due in part to headlines from other areas in the country where excessive force — to outright criminal behavior — has now defined how some people look upon those sworn to protect our community. Perhaps this negative perception will change for the better as well.
“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.”
Where it may have been easier to deal with absolutes in terms of whether or not a law has been broken, and after determining that, applying a definite punishment, time has shown us that sending low-level criminals to prison does more harm than good. Prisons do not rehabilitate behavior, in fact, quite the opposite. Think of prison as something akin to a professional getaway, complete with seminars and networking, just minus the golf outing. Low-level criminals do not need to learn how to evolve in that way. Instead, this approach allows a community to direct these individuals towards the help they need.
Let’s leave the prisons for the individuals who need to be there.