What is LEAD?

Systems change for better public safety

LEAD enhances safety, health, and equity by building a community-based alternative to jail and prosecution for people whose unlawful behavior stems from unmet needs related to substance use, mental health challenges, or extreme poverty.

The Problem

It’s become widely accepted that we can’t arrest our way out of the problems related to substance use, mental illness, or extreme poverty. But the crime and harms that can stem from these challenges must not be ignored or minimized. The LEAD model offers communities a better approach to safety and equity.


Of all people booked into jail in the United States have a mental illness or problematic substance use.

Over 60%

Of people in jail are held for low-level misdemeanors or infractions.

Jail makes things worse

Studies show that spending even brief periods in jail can make it more difficult for a person to keep or find a job or housing while also increasing the likelihood of future incarceration.

Seattle · King County LEAD – Case Management Team Members


The Solution

LEAD: Answering community needs
LEAD enhances public safety, health, and equity by building new systems to divert people with unmet needs related to behavioral health or extreme poverty into non-punitive, collaborative, community-based systems of response and care.
  • Acknowledge

    The crime, disorder, and suffering that can stem from unmet behavioral health needs are real, and their individual and collective harms must not be ignored.
  • Collaborate

    The LEAD model helps stakeholders develop a robust and ongoing collaborative framework to enhance community safety, equity, and well-being.
  • Implement

    LEAD’s collaborative framework helps diverse stakeholders align their policies, practices, and resources to build an effective, non-punitive system of response and care.


The Stakeholders who make LEAD possible
The success of a LEAD initiative depends on the strength of diverse partnerships. Through a shared commitment to changing systems and changing lives, the LEAD model forges a safer, healthier, and more equitable future for communities.
  • Business Representatives
  • Civil rights advocates
  • Community members
  • Community-based service providers
  • Elected officials
  • Prosecutors
  • Police
  • Public Defenders
  • Public Health & Safety Agencies

Core values

Advance Racial Equity
LEAD acknowledges that many systems, including the social service, child welfare, banking, housing, and health systems, have long been deeply fraught with racial injustice.

LEAD seeks to shift discriminatory systems and decision-making through changes in policies, practices, beliefs, and investments, not only in the criminal legal system but in adjacent systems that have too often failed to provide sufficient or any assistance to people for whom only the criminal legal system has regularly responded.

do what works
LEAD guides communities to do what will successfully reduce harm, foster stabilization and recovery, reduce crime, and improve safety. Succinctly put, “Do what works and doesn’t make it harder for people to stabilize and recover.”

All operational partners are asked to make decisions within their authority and discretion that are most likely to actually foster behavior change, based on individual circumstances and information available to them as a result of their participation in LEAD.

Respect autonomy
Because lasting behavior change is maximized when people are encouraged to understand and respect what matters most to them, LEAD emphasizes intrinsic motivation over compulsory- or compliance-based expectations and systems.

This evidence-based approach is both ethical and pragmatic.

Take harm seriously
Whether it’s the distressing evidence of human suffering on our streets, the disruptions and fear caused by public disorder, or the harm and setbacks caused by entanglement in the criminal legal system: LEAD recognizes that it’s in everyone’s interest to do far more to address the human needs that cause problematic behavior.

This is a core principle of the harm reduction movement: Harm reduction does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger that can be associated with illicit drug use. (National Harm Reduction Coalition, “Principles of Harm Reduction,” https://harmreduction.org/about-us/principles-of-harm-reduction/)

Key methods


What Makes LEAD Different

  • LEAD is not a program – it increases public safety by creating a new system of collective response.
  • LEAD is not a short-term crisis response – it offers ongoing case coordination.
  • LEAD isn’t operated by the courts – it’s a community-based collaborative.
  • LEAD’s commitment to harm reduction doesn’t mandate treatment or recovery.
  • LEAD serves one specific population – people whose frequent unlawful or problematic conduct stems from unmet behavioral health needs.
  • LEAD case management isn’t office-based – it meets people where they’re at.


How To Implement LEAD?

In every site, LEAD begins with a group of stakeholders committed to finding a better way. To support their efforts, the Bureau provides an evolving array of resources and assistance, including site visits, topic-specific presentations and training, and practical resources.
Learn More


How can we help?

Staffed by a team of expert practitioners with first-hand experience implementing LEAD, the Bureau is the world’s only authorized resource to provide training and technical assistance for LEAD.
Learn More
Change Begins With Communities.

Interested in implementing or improving LEAD in your community?

Contact Us Today.View List of Participating LEAD Sites