Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Pilot Launches in Waldo & Knox County
On November 29th, 2019 I shared a blog post where I discussed the topic of pre-arrest diversion and the PTACC conference attended by myself and representatives of the District Attorney’s Office, Restorative Justice of the Mid-coast and Health Equity Alliance. When I closed that article, I promised to share new blog postings as we turned our new partnerships into action. Well, here I am as promised with news!
Over my 24 years of law enforcement I have witnessed law enforcement personnel being tasked with addressing more and more social health issues. Tasking law enforcement officers with these responsibilities means we often encounter individuals who are homeless, in active addiction and/or suffering from behavioral health issues. When a law enforcement officer responds to a call for service and identifies that the root cause of the problem stems from homelessness, addiction or behavioral health concerns, they often find themselves ill equipped to resolve the problem in a meaningful way. This should not come as a surprise considering the education, training, and tools provided to law enforcement personnel are specifically tailored to enforce the laws of our State, not to address social health issues.
My frustration surrounding law enforcement's inability to impact the root cause of the problems that we often encounter is why I have devoted so much effort to identifying new alternative approaches. Our first alternative approach was to utilize HRSA grant funding to hire a Community Liaison. The remainder of this article explains how we are utilizing State SUDAP grant funding to implement our newest alternative approach, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (L.E.A.D.).
In 2019 the State of Maine decided to bring back grant opportunities through the Substance Use Disorder Assistance Program (SUDAP). The SUDAP grants are administrated under the State of Maine’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) and are available to municipal, county, or tribal governments or regional correctional facilities. In late 2019 DPS posted the grant opportunity seeking proposals designed to assist individuals with substance use disorder using liaison strategies to divert people before or after arrest to treatment and/or support services.
Shortly after the grant posting I received an email from Kenney Miller, Executive Director of Health Equity Alliance, sharing the request for proposal. This grant funding opportunity fit perfectly with the pre-arrest deflection programming we were talking about bringing into the mid-coast area. When Kenney and I discussed this opportunity and how it could be best utilized to fund programs in the mid-coast, we both agreed that this could be the answer to funding we were seeking not only in Waldo County but also in neighboring Knox County as well. The collaboration between Waldo and Knox County Sheriff’s Offices has been continually growing stronger since we partnered to create the State of Maine’s first Unified Correctional Administrator in June of 2019. When we presented Sheriff Carroll with the proposal to partner on another venture, he was eager to join with us on the application.
I will be the first person to admit, my skills around grant writing are extremely limited. I was quick to share this fact at the onset of our conversation as we discussed completing a proposal for this grant. As luck would have it, we were fortunate! It turned out we had a skilled grant writer in our small group. As executive director for Health Equity Alliance, Kenney had extensive experience with grant applications. Without hesitation, and in spite of the fact that this grant application would have to be completed in addition to his regular duties, Kenney volunteered to compile all our data and coordinate the crafting of our proposal.
As we began our work to develop our grant proposal, we had one thing in our favor. We knew from the onset that we would utilize the Seattle model of LEAD, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, as the basis of our program. We decided that we wanted to expand on the Seattle model and incorporate some of our other partner organizations to strengthen the reach and effectiveness of the deflection program. The Seattle model is primarily designed to provide law enforcement personnel with an option to deflect someone suffering from substance use disorder to case management services in-lieu of arrest. We wanted to create a grant proposal that would fund at least one full-time case manager in each of the two counties.
We also wanted to utilize grant funding to create another pre-arrest diversion option for law enforcement by partnering with the Restorative Justice Project of the Mid-coast. When we reached out to Sarah Mattox and the staff at RJP they were excited about the partnership opportunity. This partnership would allow for funding to RJP to develop a community conflict resolution team that could accept direct referrals from law enforcement personnel. As I have shared in prior blog post, many of the interactions we have with community members are not criminal in nature but there is almost always conflict between parties and often harm has not been caused. By creating the opportunity for a direct referral to restorative justice practices, we will create an opportunity for those who wish, to seek a restorative solution to the conflict they are experiencing.
That is why I was so excited when I was notified that our grant application had been approved and we would receive funding to hire a full-time case manager in Waldo and Knox County. Now, when law enforcement personnel or our Community Liaison encounter an appropriate candidate suffering from addiction, mental health crisis, homelessness or other factors that are likely to cause them to have repeated contact with the criminal justice system they now can refer that person to the case manager in lieu of criminal charges. Once the individual has been placed into contact with the case manager, they can identify the root cause and make a connection to the appropriate services.
Repeated arrest and incarceration are expensive, often ineffective and carries a significant stigma. A criminal record creates significant and lifelong barriers to employment, housing, education and social services. If an individual can be diverted into treatment and toward resources, we may be able to avoid incarceration while addressing the root cause of the original problem.
Both of these pre-arrest deflection alternatives are intended to serve as a method to deflect individuals away from involvement in the criminal justice system while providing treatment, services and resolution to underlying issues.
I will add future blog post to keep everyone updated on our L.E.A.D. program and Community Liaison position as they develop!!