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Policy Makers and Elected Officials

Quick Guides

In recent decades, it’s become increasingly clear that we can’t arrest our way out of the problems associated with unmanaged mental illness and/or substance use. A robust alternative strategy is urgently needed, one that, ultimately, must be scaled to match the scope of the challenge. Otherwise, the legitimate pressure for a meaningful response to real problems threatens to drive communities back to punitive measures, for want of a viable option. 

Over the years, determined people from communities of every type – large and small, conservative and liberal, urban and rural – have joined the effort to create safer, healthier, more equitable communities by reducing our reliance on the criminal legal system and investing in effective, community-based alternatives to jail and prosecution for people living with these challenges.

LEAD advances safety and equity by developing a coordinated system of response to specific incidents and ongoing situations, diverting eligible people to community-based services and sustained care, instead of jail and prosecution, in all appropriate cases.

LEAD equips communities with a practical way to respond to problems for which jail and prosecution are both common and ineffective. With LEAD, policymakers, service providers, criminal legal system stakeholders, and community members work together to enhance public safety and order by better addressing the problems that can come from unmanaged mental illness, substance use, and income instability.

LEAD is premised on two realities: (i) elected officials will always be expected to offer a meaningful, plausible response to public order and public safety issues, and (ii) there is wide support among voters for responses that center care coordination rather than punishment, if that care-based response can be made available in timely and effective ways.

Evidence shows that when it’s implemented with fidelity, LEAD works: A rigorous set of external evaluations of the flagship site in Seattle found that LEAD reduced rates of re-arrest by 58%, new felony charges by 39%, and prison admission by 87%, compared to a control group, while reducing systems costs and increasing rates of permanent housing by 89% and legitimate income by 33%.

Whether you’re exploring LEAD, are eager to begin a LEAD initiative, have encountered challenges in LEAD implementation, or are seeking guidance in expansion or evaluation, this toolkit offers resources to help your community build better safety, health, and equity with LEAD.


Is anyone eligible for LEAD?

Many people who come into occasional contact with the criminal legal, social service, or behavioral health systems – via a single arrest, a temporary economic hurdle, or a difficult psychological period – can successfully find their way through these challenges without suffering severe and lasting consequences. For them, the established system of response and care may prove to be sufficiently accessible and manageable.

These are not the people LEAD is intended to serve.

Instead, LEAD is expressly designed to provide a new system of care for people whose complex, ongoing, unmet behavioral health needs result in disruptive or unlawful behavior. They may lack reliable shelter, income, food, health care, and positive social networks, and may find existing systems inaccessible, impossibly complicated, or insufficiently responsive.

How can LEAD work alongside other initiatives?

As an alternative response that builds a long-term system of care, LEAD can beneficially coexist alongside many other interventions. 1) In communities that have crisis-response teams, for example, LEAD can enhance the long-term post-crisis system of care. 2) For communities with specialty courts, LEAD can serve as an adaptive resource for people who might otherwise struggle to comply with court dates or mandates. 3) For communities interested in developing non-police alternative responses to public disorder, LEAD can serve as both first responders and long-term care coordinators.