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Seattle police officers keep an eye on activity in downtown. The area they patrol has been the source of many referrals to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, aimed at keeping low-level drug offenders and prostitutes out of jail and receiving services for housing, counseling, and job training. (Ted S. Warren/​The Associated Press)

New York — Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today announced a grant to the University of Washington to conduct an evaluation of Seattle’s innovative Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. This promising pilot program, which began in the fall of 2011, allows police officers in one Seattle Police Department precinct and one King County Sheriff’s Office precinct to divert individuals arrested for low-level, non-violent drug and prostitution crimes from the traditional criminal justice process. Defendants diverted through the LEAD program are assigned to case managers who can connect them with services such as treatment for substance abuse or assistance with employment and housing. The program was developed through a unique partnership among prosecutors, defenders, law enforcement, and elected and community leaders.

The goal of the LEAD program is to drive down recidivism and crime by addressing the root causes of criminal behavior for defendants arrested for low-level crimes. This approach allows police, prosecutors, and court personnel to focus their efforts on the most serious offenders. Violent felons, people wanted on warrants, and those found with large quantities of drugs are among the exclusion criteria for the LEAD program. Also, police officers have the discretion to exclude an otherwise eligible offender from LEAD if certain conditions are met.

Because the LEAD program shows promise as a model for other jurisdictions, LJAF is funding a formal evaluation of the program’s impact. The evaluation will be conducted by independent researchers from the University of Washington, Dr. Susan E. Collins and Dr. Seema L. Clifasefi, with assistance from Dr. Cynthia Lum of George Mason University. Over the next two years, the researchers will produce reports that assess whether the LEAD program is effective in reducing recidivism and improving public safety, making more efficient use of criminal justice resources, and improving the housing and health-related quality of life of individuals diverted through the program. The researchers’ reports will be submitted for publication in leading criminology and public health journals.

About the LEAD Program Evaluation Researchers

The LEAD program evaluation will be led by Susan E. Collins, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at the University of Washington – Harborview Medical Center and Seema L. Clifasefi, PhD, an Assistant Professor at the Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington. Cynthia Lum, an Associate Professor at George Mason University’s Department of Criminology, Law, and Society, will serve as a consultant on the LEAD program evaluation.