Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), originally pioneered in Seattle, Washington and implemented in Albany, NY, is a pre-arrest diversion program that enables individuals who have committed minor offenses to be diverted away from the punitive carceral system and be redirected towards community support services. By using a harm reduction method, the program can bring healing, change and save lives, and save tax dollars!
As it is a pre-arrest diversion program, an individual entering LEAD must see a social worker within 30 days and cooperate with an assessment. The assessment often addresses whether a crime has been committed; however, in some circumstances, it does not address any harm that may have been caused within the community. For instance, minor vandalism, shoplifting, and fighting often involve harm being caused. In these situations, it is in the interest of the offender, victim, and the community to repair the damage or harm that has occurred.
Peace Conferences can be used to mend the damage as well as to help the offender gain access to services and needed support. That access can create a lasting life change. In Erie County, we are creating Peace Hubs in congregations and community groups that can supply Peace Conference facilitators and caring individuals. This will help the offender build a secure position in the community over a period of at least six months. Incorporating this approach will ultimately allow our LEAD program to accept a wider range of cases, help individuals successfully complete the program, and ultimately strengthen the community.
The City of Buffalo committed to implementing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) as a pilot program in B District in 2020. However, this commitment has yet to materialize.