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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Seattle Drug Diversion Program Shows Promise

In the United States the majority of people behind bars are there because of drug charges. The unfortunate reality is that many who are released from prison often find their way back, indicating that incarceration is not the answer to addiction. In 2011, the city of Seattle launched a program called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), with the goal of keeping addicts out of jail, the Associated Press reports. Instead, offenders were offered housing, counseling, and job training.

A new study conducted by the University of Washington found that 60 percent of participants were less likely to be arrested than a control group. The findings prove that prison and jails are only a minor deterrent in combating addiction in the United States. Advocates of the program are calling upon the president for an expansion of drug court programs and copy the Seattle program nationwide, according to the article.

"This is a big deal — bigger reductions than are seen in almost any criminal justice interventions," wrote Lisa Daugaard, policy director at King County's Public Defender Association. "This makes the case for 'system as usual' processing (even with drug courts) very weak."

The problem with most drug court programs throughout the country is their strict rules regarding relapse. They do not take into consideration just how powerful addiction is; threatening jail time to an addict if they relapse is not always a big enough deterrent. Which is why the Seattle program takes a different approach, participants aren't threatened with jail time or with being kicked out if they relapse. Without the fear of messing up here and there, addicts are able to focus on their recovery and putting the pieces of their life back together.

The study found that between October 2011 and July 2014, Seattle police assisted 203 people enroll in LEAD, the article reports. Instead of sending them to jail they were given case managers and provided with:

  • Motel Rooms
  • Groceries
  • Clothing
  • Drug Treatment
  • Job Training

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