LEAD is a diversion initiative that provides a non-punitive, community-based system of response to problematic or unlawful behavior that is rooted in substance use disorder. LEAD invests in an individual’s well-being and is motivated by a desire to reduce reliance on the criminal legal system to address the unmet behavioral health needs. In a LEAD initiative, police officers exercise discretionary authority to divert individuals suspected of low-level, non-violent crimes to a community-based, harm-reduction intervention in lieu of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. LEAD aims to reduce the harms of drug policies that criminalize substance use disorder by allowing police officers to divert instead of arrest when responding to behaviors and situations that do not pose a significant threat to public safety. LEAD is a systems-change effort that includes a direct service component.
There are three main pathways into LEAD—Arrest Diversion, Social Contact Referral, and Community Referral. With Arrest Diversion, individuals are diverted to LEAD instead of being arrested, prosecuted, or incarcerated in response to an alleged crime. With the Social Contact Referral, law enforcement officers can refer individuals to LEAD any time. Community members can refer to LEAD without involving law enforcement or members of the legal system at any time with Community Referrals.
LEAD aims to establish a new system of response and care for people who are not served by office-based, appointment-based, time-delimited care. Typically, these are people who live with unmanaged behavioral health needs and often lifelong experiences of punishment and marginalization. They are often repeatedly in contact with the criminal legal system for low-level offenses or issues of public disorder associated with their untreated behavioral health condition.
LEAD is a community-based diversion initiative that addresses substance use disorder as a public health issue instead of a criminal issue. LEAD improves public safety and community health. LEAD has been shown to reduce criminal recidivism, reduce use of emergency medical services, and improve quality of life of those engaged in the program. LEAD supports collaboration across systems and thus, reduces the stigma associated with substance use disorder, strengthens community-police relations and improves lives.
There are currently 6 LEAD programs in New Mexico. Programs participate in a comprehensive cross-site evaluation administered through the University of New Mexico. Each site works with a local evaluator to foster continuous improvement and strategic thinking through real time data on referrals, client engagement, stakeholder collaboration, and client outcomes. Program managers and staff come together virtually each month to share program updates and engage in group learning about program planning, implementation and evaluation.