Problematic Behavior or Activity
Individuals suffering from substance use disorders and houselessness not only endure undue harm themselves but can detract from the quality of life in a community because behaviors associated with substance abuse disorders and houselessness are frequently associated with property crime and other forms of low-level offending. Low-level repeat offending is often driven by underlying unaddressed issues such as extreme poverty, housing insecurity, substance abuse disorders, and untreated mental health conditions. Simply arresting or citing individuals committing low-level offenses, without addressing the underlying issues, results in a “revolving door” dynamic or more recidivism—the person repeating the undesirable behavior.
Furthermore, arresting individuals associated with these activities places significant burden on the criminal justice system in both responding to calls for service and the cost of incarcerating individuals. There is little evidence that the traditional system of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration increases public safety, reduces illegal drug use, or reduces recidivism. In fact, arresting individuals often worsens the underlying issues that drive offending, resulting in more offending. A better approach would be to connect low-level offenders to resources so that the issues driving offending are addressed.
This project addresses disproportionate incarceration rates for Marion County and aims to connect members of the community to services to avoid recidivism. Marion County has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the state at 1.34, compared to larger and similar-sized counties, such as Multnomah (.95), Washington (.88), Lane (1.25) and Clackamas (.80). The need for supportive services and resource linkages among the population in Marion County is immense, with 70.3% of the Marion County Jail inmates reporting a previous experience of houselessness and 31.7% reporting that they have previously used heroin. In the month of February 2017 alone, 45% of arrests in Marion County were drug related. A high percentage of adults in custody in Marion County jail experience mental health challenges, according to surveys conducted in Marion County jail.
Marion County Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) gives officers a tool to divert low-level offenders away from the traditional criminal justice system and helps connect them to social services to address the underlying issues driving offending.
Marion County LEAD is a coordinated effort between law enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office, behavioral health services, and social service organizations. Law enforcement officers are the first point of contact and via the LEAD program and the DA’s office, can recommend diversion or withholding criminal charges for the arrestable offense if the offender joins the LEAD program within seven days. Offenders can avoid incarceration by participating in the LEADS program. Program participants are then connected to a LEAD navigator. Once enrolled, the navigator helps assess needs and assists the individual to work towards positive outcomes—such as employment, locating housing, and developing positive routines.
Based on Research
Numerous studies demonstrated that the LEAD program in Seattle resulted in positive outcomes for LEAD participants, such as improved housing, employment, and reduced illegal drug use. In addition, research indicates that this program in Seattle resulted in a significant reduction in criminal justice system utilization.
Additional funding for this program comes from two grants through the Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program (COSSAP), Bureau of Justice Administration.
The Marion County LEAD program produced numerous positive outcomes for program participants. For instance, when comparing the participant’s initial (pre-LEAD) assessment and an assessment at 6 plus months in the program, the percent of participants housed and employed increased and the percent of participants indicating illegal drug use decreased. Program participants indicated that their mental health improved after 6 months in the program.
It is likely that the program will reduce criminal justice system utilization in Marion County. The program is currently collecting data on police contacts with the hope that Marion County will see a reduction in criminal justice system utilization, like the results observed in Seattle.
Critical Success Factors
A critical success factor is law enforcement “buy-in” because the program relies on officer participation and discretion. The program has trained 208 officers across 6 agencies in Marion County to help administer the program. LEAD navigators play a critical role in the program because they help participants develop intervention plans to locate housing and navigate treatment and/or job placement. The program is currently expanding capacity by increasing the number of navigators available.
Mirroring the positive results in Seattle, the Marion County LEAD program offers a valid alternative to the traditional model for responding to low-level offending and offers a promising path to deal with problematic behavior associated with illegal drug use and houselessness. The program does this by connecting low-level offenders to services that address the underlying issues that drive offending and provides a promising approach for breaking the cycle of low-level recidivism.
Marion County LEAD 2-year Progress Report at this page: Marion County Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion
County diversion program gets dozens housed, employed with early success - Salem Reporter