LEAD Launch: Smart Criminal Justice Reform Begins In Albany

Mar 31, 2016

Police and civic leaders gathered at the Center For Law and Justice in Albany today to announce the kickoff of a new diversion program.

The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, is being praised as an innovative pre-booking diversion program that empowers officers to redirect low-level offenders engaged in criminal activity like prostitution or drugs to community-based services — instead of sending them on the path to jail and prosecution. So, instead of making an arrest, police officers use discretion to divert individuals directly to a case manager, who helps them obtain social services.

Dr. Alice Green is director of the Center for Law and Justice:  "We're at last collaborating with each other. Law enforcement. Business community. Service providers. We recognize that we have a serious problem. We're incarcerating too many people. The criminal justice system cannot deal with those problems that people go in with. We can do it better in the community."

Green says police officers are being trained using certain criteria to determine if individuals can benefit from a diversion program. "It's not gonna change the entire system, as I think many people recognize. But it's a beginning step."

Mayor Kathy Sheehan told the crowd "what has happened with policing is the result of this country trying to do things on the cheap."  "We don't provide a high quality education for young people in our poorest neighborhoods. We don't connect their parents to jobs. We don't provide excellent health care, or sometimes even any health care, and then we expect the police to go in and fix it."

The official start of the program is April1st.

The Albany version of the program has been in the works for nearly two years. First announced last June, it was bolstered by a $70,000 grant from the Touhey Family Foundation in December. LEAD has dropped the level of re-arrests a staggering 60 percent in Seattle, where it was rolled out in 2011. Leaders here are hopeful the chances of success will be as high, perhaps even higher here.  Police Chief Brendan Cox: “We’re gonna be able to start diverting arrests. So we’ll be able to take folks that are committing crimes, that are really delved in substance abuse, poverty and mental illness, for certain crimes we’re gonna be able to be diverted away from the criminal justice system.”

Community advocate Sam Wiggins: "This is a great opportunity, and I just hope that as we've initiated this project that we all are here for the whole ride."

Albany Medical Center is helping foot the bill for the LEAD program, the first in the nation to link LEAD case management with a local healthcare system. Case management will be handled out of Albany's Catholic Charities offices.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas