You are here: Police-led diversion – the LEAD approach

Revolving Doors Agency is proud to announce a strategic partnership with Public Defenders Association to promote a new approach to police-led diversion that we believe can better prevent the revolving door of crisis and crime. This trans-Atlantic partnership hopes to shift policy debate on effective justice response for people in the revolving door and demonstrate that tackling poverty, trauma and racial discrimination is the most effective way of dealing with repeat low-level crime.

Our analysis shows 50,000 young adults are being pulled into the criminal justice system for relatively minor and non-violent offences such as theft each year, often as a result of multiple unaddressed needs – mental ill health, addiction, homelessness, and poverty. Furthermore we continue to observe how each contact with the criminal justice system, rather than being an opportunity for rehabilitation, ends up harming their future life chances and drives them deeper into the crisis.

There is growing evidence that diversion works. There are multiple examples such as Liaison and Diversion, Checkpoint, Divert and more. However, they’re not universally available, and there a one-size-fits-all diversion service that can respond to all needs or circumstances. Especially for adults in the revolving door, we know the current diversion provision may not always be suitable. For people in the revolving door, adhering to rigid programmes, attending during regular hours, or visiting offices simply isn’t the right approach.

We reviewed evidence on “what works” for diverting people in the revolving door. Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a model designed and proven to work for people in the revolving door. Peer reviewed evaluations, including randomised control trials, show that the LEAD approach is proven to achieve 58% decrease in rates of re-arrests and 87% decrease in prison admissions among ‘repeat offenders.’ It has also shown to reduce some of the racial disparities among this population and bring reconciliation to police and community relations by delivering an evidence-based public health model.

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)

LEAD is a pre-arrest and at-the-point of arrest diversion approach, specifically designed for people in the revolving door. The approach was developed in Seattle and has been rolled out to more than 80 police jurisdictions across America. The model fidelity is underpinned by three core principles:

  • Harm reduction approach which requires non-coercive and long-term engagement
  • A focus on individual and community wellness, rather than an exclusive focus on sobriety
  • The need for rank and frontline police officers to be meaningful partners in programme design and operations.

The role of police officers: Police officers exercise discretionary power at the point of contact to divert individuals into a community-based, harm reduction intervention. In lieu of the normal criminal justice system process, individuals are instead referred into long-term and non-coercive case management. As LEAD relies on officer discretion, it is essential that they document why they have taken the decision to or not to use diversion for eligible offences. One key learning from the US experience is that officers who are accustomed to using LEAD may come to regard arrest as a last resort for low-level and non-violent offences that are linked to ill health and/or poverty.

The role of case managers: The case managers are hosted by a support organisation, independent from the police.  Participants are engaged where they are, physically and metaphorically. The needs and circumstances are assessed over time. Once the acute needs have been addressed, the case manager works with each person to design an Individual Intervention Plan which may include assistance with housing, treatment, education, training, job placement, licensing assistance, child care, or other services. Programs are tailored to the needs of different racial and ethnic groups, LGBTQ people, and other protected characteristics. Average caseloads involved 20-25 people and length of support can vary 6-24 months. LEAD offers an open-ended support, which, almost never, closes cases until the individual specifically asks them to close the case.

The role of local partnerships: LEAD is not a project, but an ambitious whole system approach to harm reduction and law enforcement. It requires independent decision-makers to collaborate on a voluntary basis across health, local authority and PCC boundaries. In addition to police, service providers, community groups, prosecutors, elected officials and others, persons with relevant lived experience (e.g. drug use, sex work, homelessness, poverty) are essential stakeholders who should be meaningfully involved partners. Meaningful involvement of persons with relevant lived experience in project design, implementation, and evaluation is core to the local approach.

We were delighted to mark the launch of our partnership with a webinar attended by over 100 delegates. You can watch the presentations from the webinar in the video below.

Want to know more?

For more information on LEAD please visit www.leadbureau.org 

If you are interested in working with us to explore LEAD in your local area then please email Burcu Borysik.

Briefing for the launch of LEAD UK

Revolving Doors Agency and Public Defenders Association (the US-based penal reform charity) launches Let Everyone Advance with Dignity (LEAD), a police-led diversion approach for young adults (18-25) who are at risk of becoming trapped in the revolving door of crime and crisis.