Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program

Drug users and sex workers frequently cycle through the criminal justice system in what is sometimes referred to as a ?revolving door.?1 On balance, the traditional approach of incarceration and prosecution has not consistently helped to deter this recidivism.2 In fact, this approach may contribute to the cycle by limiting opportunities for these individuals to reenter the workforce, which relegates repeat offenders to work in illegal markets.3 This approach also creates barriers to the attainment of housing and benefits and, thus, may prevent people from achieving the stability they need to make positive behavioral and lifestyle changes. Further, repeated incarceration and prosecution puts a strain on the criminal justice and legal systems. Finally, racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in drug law enforcement have invited criticism of policing practices and have generated friction between police and communities. For these reasons, there have been calls for innovative programs to engage and rehabilitate these individuals in a more effective and socially just manner and thereby stop the revolving door.4

All of these factors contributed to the development of Seattle, Washington?s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. For over a decade, Seattle?s Public Defender Association, the Seattle Police Department (SPD), and the King County Prosecuting Attorney?s Office were engaged in contentious litigation over the racial disparity in Seattle drug arrests and prosecutions. At the end of one round of litigation in 2005, the then-captain of SPD?s narcotics division posed a question to those who were critical of the department, ?Setting aside the question of why we see these enforcement patterns, let?s say we were open to doing things differently. What would you have us do??