In recent decades, multiple forms of diversion have emerged throughout the United States. Some of these offer individuals the option of going directly to drug treatment rather than jail, which is useful only for the subset of people willing to commit to immediate, abstinence-focused treatment. Other efforts, such as prosecutor diversion or specialty courts, don’t divert people out of the criminal legal process; rather, these efforts require defendants to comply with various mandates and achieve certain goals under the supervision of the courts before their cases are resolved, and falling short can result in further criminal legal sanctions.
These approaches, which combine the carrot of enhanced resources and the stick of potential punishment, may prove effective – at least, for some people, some of the time. But it’s clearly true that many people – especially those with complex and longstanding behavioral health issues – are unable to comply with the expectations imposed by these approaches. Despite everyone’s best efforts, they may end up lost to the process or find themselves once again in custody.
Rather than setting this population up for likely failure by imposing timelines, requirements, and sanctions, the LEAD model provides enhanced care and support in community-based settings. By constructing a coordinated, client-focused, long-term, low-barrier system of support and harm reduction, LEAD offers a better way to address the underlying, persistent factors driving ongoing unlawful or disruptive conduct that stems from complex behavioral illness.
This does not mean that LEAD participants are necessarily free of involvement in the courts: they may have prior, unresolved cases that were not diverted to LEAD, or they may be charged with new, non-divertible offenses while enrolled in LEAD, or they may be enrolled in a specialty court for a non-diverted case. But in every instance, LEAD staff can still provide participants with useful support for their non-diverted cases: By coordinating case management and court dates, LEAD can help participants navigate court processes; by helping clients engage with services, LEAD can help them fulfill conditions imposed by the court; by developing intensive support plans, LEAD can provide prosecutors and courts with community-based alternatives to incarceration.