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Denver starting new law enforcement program

Initiative addresses mental health and substance abuse

LEAD program aims to help individuals suffering from drug dependence.
Illustration: Phong Nguyen · The Sentry

Denver has started a new initiative offering support to those with mental health and substance abuse problems. The program is an effort to provide “adults at risk for low-level controlled substance-related offenses and prostitution” along with harm-reduction intervention and other guidance to increase public and individual safety.

The pilot program named LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) was announced on Feb. 19 by Denver officials and will be offered to those in danger of returning to jail over non-violent crimes. LEAD offers guidance to those struggling while also saving taxpayer money.

In 2016 alone, there was an average drug arrest every 20 seconds in the United States—resulting in a total of over 1.5 million people arrested on an account of drug related crime, according to the FBI.

“I’d say that there is great potential for LEAD to avert some of the unintended consequences of involvement in the justice system for the types of offenders it takes on,” Lonnie Schaible, CU Denver professor and the principle investigator for state-funded evaluation of all four sites, stated. “Instead of imposing strict accountability like other diversion efforts (e.g. probation or pre-trial diversion), the program seeks to meet clients where they’re at and holistically address their individual needs.”

Police in Alamosa, Denver County, Longmont, and Pueblo County, alongside Denver’s Office of Behavioral Health Strategies, will be working to reduce “untreated behavioral or mental health” in Denver, as well as working to reduce the Denver police’s future time spent on issues with individuals struggling with issues such as drug dependence. One of Denver’s Office of Behavioral Health Strategies’ focus is in this area of community health, as they work to “reduce arrests, jail time, reduce ER and detox visits, and free up police to do police work.”

According to LEAD’s program administrator, Kevin Kelly, in an interview with Fox 31, “With this program, we can prevent people from getting caught in the endless cycle of incarceration, saving taxpayer money. And we can empower people to live better who are typically facing extraordinary barriers to accessing the services they need.”

The program has received a grant funded by the Long Bill of the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund. The grant of almost $600,000 enables the program to offer services like housing support and job training from other organizations present in the program. Organizations like Addiction Research and Treatment Services (ARTS) from the Colorado School of Medicine and from The Empowerment Program believe in “a holistic approach, from mental health and drug treatment programs, to group wellness education and acupuncture.”

City officials have stated that more money can be requested for the program after an evaluation and results are seen, meaning that there is a reduction in both drug use and reoffenses.

“Instead of presuming or requiring immediate abstinence, they work with offenders to improve their quality of life and address issues that are leading offenders to engage in crime and substance abuse. For our evaluation, we’re especially interested in seeing how/whether/where LEAD clients change over the course of their involvement in the program,” Schaible stated.

Kristin M. Bronson, Denver City Attorney, stated in response to the program, “LEAD is an opportunity to help break the cycle of incarceration for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues.”

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