A New Approach To Drug Offenses With Much Better Results

By this point in time, it has become clear to most Americans that the “war on drugs” has been a failure – and an expensive one at that. Rather than reducing rates of drug use and abuse, the war on drugs has dramatically increased prison populations, ravaged minority communities and has been used to justify the increasing militarization of law enforcement agencies.

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Yet, as we note on the drug possession page of our website, police and prosecutors here in Nevada continue to fight the war on drugs through aggressive evidence collection and heavy-handed prosecution. Surely, there must be better way.

Thankfully, some major American cities are trying new approaches, and the initial success of these strategies is getting noticed elsewhere. One of the most promising programs seems to be one that began in Seattle in 2011. It’s called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD.

Rather than focusing on arrests and prosecutions, LEAD focuses on harm reduction. According to a press release from the Drug Policy Alliance, “Under LEAD, police officers exercise discretion to divert individuals for certain criminal offenses (including low-level drug sales) to a case manager and a comprehensive network of services, instead of booking them to jail and initiating the standard criminal justice process.”

One of the reasons that the standard response to drug crimes is not working is that it fails to address problems like addiction and poverty. These issues don’t simply disappear when an individual goes to prison – they may, in fact, get worse. This is evidenced by the high rates of recidivism among individuals convicted of drug crimes.

According to an independent analysis of the LEAD program in Seattle, it has reduced recidivism (repeat offense) rates by 60 percent. No other law enforcement strategies have even come close to that level of success regarding drug crimes.

Programs like LEAD are effective, in large part, because they reframe the way we think about drug use and abuse. They are an admission that for the most part, drug abuse and addiction are public health issues, not criminal matters.

Hopefully, law enforcement agencies here in Nevada will consider implementing LEAD or a similar program in the near future.

Source: The Drug Policy Alliance, “Report: Seattle’s New Approach to Low-Level Drug Offenses Produces Nearly 60% Reduction in Recidivism,” press release, April 8, 2015

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