Former U.S. attorney and mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan unveiled an "equal justice" platform today, including a call to expand a popular drug crime diversion program citywide.
The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) offers to connect people arrested for drug crimes to treatment and services rather than booking them in jail. The program is funded by private donations and city dollars.
“We cannot have our response to what should be public health issues and other issues of poverty be one of criminal justice enforcement," Durkan said today.
LEAD has been proven to reduce recidivism by 60 percent. The program has received national attention as a poster child for progressives attempting to reverse the War on Drugs. But it remains limited in Seattle. While officers in downtown and Capitol Hill can send drug offenders to LEAD, officers in south, southwest, and north Seattle cannot. Today, 400 to 500 people enter LEAD each year, according to Lisa Daugaard, the director of the Public Defender Association who helped develop the program.
Expanding the program citywide could serve 2,000 people a year. It would more than double LEAD's size from 15 to 45 or 50 caseworkers and add $4 million a year to its $2.4 million budget, according to Daugaard. Durkan does not yet have a proposal for where that new money would come from. Durkan said today that "a preliminary look seems to indicate that we can" fund the program with existing city money, but did not provide more specifics.
To ensure success for people who participate in LEAD, the region must also tackle its shortage of drug treatment and affordable housing for former drug users. A King County heroin task force called for "treatment on demand," but county officials have yet to clarify how they'll fund that.
"LEAD is a methodology for engaging people. No matter the resources available, it’s still better to engage," Daugaard told The Stranger. "That said, those cops and prosecutors [who work with LEAD clients] will be the first to tell you how frustrating it is for them when they know a person is doing everything we recommend and there’s nowhere for them to live and no treatment."
Along with expanding LEAD, Durkan today said the city should continue to push for police reform—particularly reducing racial disparities in use of force—and expand crisis intervention training.
Durkan, who was U.S. attorney when the city negotiated the Seattle Police Department's federal consent decree, said the police department has made "significant progress" toward reform. Durkan said she met with the family of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant black mother shot by two white police officers this year. Lyles death "shows that while we have come a long ways, we can do better," Durkan said. "No call for help should be answered with death.”
She said the city should create a graduated scale for municipal court fines to prevent burying low-income people under tickets they can't pay. She proposed a coordinated system for people leaving incarceration, who currently are "required to navigate a byzantine system of paperwork and government offices” to get housing, employment, and other services. And she said the city should focus on alternatives to incarceration for youth, particularly "transformative types of programs" that already exist. (It's nice to see Durkan studying Nikkita Oliver's talking points.)
“I want to make sure every department and every person working for the Durkan administration understands we are looking to communities for solutions," she said. "It will not be a top down solution.”
Read her full "equal justice" platform here.