Activists, Officials Take Fact-finding Trip to Seattle for LEAD Program
(APN) ATLANTA — From April 14 to 16, 2015, Atlanta activists and elected officials were in Seattle, Washington, learning more about the city’s successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, also known as the Pre-Arrest Diversion.
The group consisted of Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall (District 2); Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington, Jr., (District 5); Atlanta City Deputy Solicitor Roni Graham; Calvin Jennings of Atlanta’s Office of the City Solicitor; Xochitl Bervera, Co-Director of Racial Justice Action Center (RJAC); Dee Dee Chamblee, Executive Director of LaGender; Juan Evans, Organizer for RJAC; and Marilynn Winn, co-founder of Women on the Rise.
Now, elements of Seattle’s LEAD program may be coming to Atlanta soon, as activists are applying for a grant to support a pilot program that they envision for Atlanta.
This program allows police officers to redirect low-level drug and prostitution offenders to community based services, instead of jail and prosecution.
Seattle’s program, which started in 2011, is reducing criminal recidivism rates by up to sixty percent for poor people, chronically homeless people, low-level drug dealers and users, and survival sex workers.
A report on the program is available below:
Georgia is the number one state in the U.S. with people under correctional control, which includes prison, jail, probation, and parole. Georgia has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the U.S.
“I went to Seattle because I wanted to see the LEAD program in action. Their model does not believe in abstinence because the majority of addicts relapse. You are not thrown out of the program if you relapse or even if you get another case. They continue to work with you to help you and show you a better way of life,” Winn told Atlanta Progressive News.
Georgia’s programs are instead based on unrealistic expectations that addicts will never relapse. So, when most addicts eventually relapse, they are usually sent back to jail and never receive the help they need to break the cycle.
The Pre-Arrest Diversion program is still in the preliminary stages in Atlanta and is planned to be tested in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood.
APN first reported on activists’ exploring Seattle’s LEAD program and a possible trip to Seattle in 2013, when many of the same activists were involved in blocking a proposed City of Atlanta ordinance that would have banished prostitutes from certain parts of the City:
“It will require the police department, the Mayor’s office, the court system, prosecutor’s office, judges, and Fulton County as a partner to make it have the strength and support we saw with the program in Seattle,” Councilman Hall told APN.
“It is a model for a pilot to see what strategies work to stop arresting people for very small crimes and to divert them to community services and add more prevention because arresting people doesn’t work. It’s something I want to see happen in the next year or two, if not sooner,” Councilman Hall said.
Winn told APN that in Seattle, when the police have probable cause to arrest someone for low level drug and prostitution offenses, the officer calls a case manager, rather than processing that person through the criminal justice system.
The person, if homeless, is found a place to stay that day. Whatever problems they are dealing with, whether mental illness, drug addiction, poverty, or survival sex work, they will receive help from degreed social workers, many of whom have overcome similar barriers.
“We know what a failure the drug war has been. In Atlanta, we see 462 individuals responsible for fourteen thousand arrests. The arrests, probation, jail revolving door cycle is not working for anyone,” Bervera told APN.
There is a growing consensus around the country that arrests and jail for low-level drug offenses and prostitution are costly and ineffective.
“Pre-arrest diversion works much better than drug courts or pre-trial diversion. It diverts the person out of the whole system, which is costly and disrupts lives. The cost analysis out of the Santa Fe [New Mexico] program show that savings from court, jail, and police costs would pay for the program,” Bervera said.
Councilman Hall said in Atlanta, young people are being arrested for small amounts of cannabis (marijuana) that in Georgia is still illegal.
People are getting arrest records from petty offenses, which makes it harder for them to get a job and be productive in society. After a person has an arrest record, it can create a revolving door from jail to probation and back to jail, and put a person’s life on a permanent negative path.
It is ironic that in Georgia, one can go to prison for cannabis possession, while in many other U.S. states, one can go to a store or to a doctor for legal cannabis.
Winn also said she believes police officers and the police culture of arrest can be changed.
“One police officer told us all he wanted to do was lock people up and get them off the street. After going through the LEAD program, he no longer has the mindset to arrest people. Now he wants to find help for people to make them whole and give them hope,” Winn said.
For additional information on the innovative LEAD program: