City and County Team Up to Divert Low-Level Offenders

October 02, 2018 by

The Houston Health Department and Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis joined together to launch Texas’ first Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion initiative.

Their iteration of LEAD aims to help minors who commit crimes in school or on school property to be diverted rather than arrested. Prior to the rollout, if a student was accused of a crime on school grounds, they would be arrested, incur court costs, and possibly spend time in a detention center. Pre-trial intervention is certainly an option in most instances, but the LEAD program wants to intervene before the legal process even starts.

Rather than arresting an offender and filing charges with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, LEAD will connect the offender with a case manager and other community-based services, like drug treatment.

Attucks Middle School in Sunnyside is where the program was announced and will serve as the first site of the program as they saw the most arrests in the past year out of all HISD campuses. According to data, 25 percent of the youth sent to juvenile prison in the U.S. last year came from Harris County. Attucks Middle School had 40 of those arrests.

The program, where implemented, has proven to be a benefit to offenders and taxpayers alike.

Seattle was the first city to implement the program back in 2011. In 2015, they reported that recidivism rates for the poor, chronically homeless, low-level drug dealers, users, and prostituted residents dropped by 60 percent. The program also found that participants had 1.4 fewer bookings, spent 39 fewer days in jail, and the cost reduction per participant totaled in the thousands.

Albany, New York most recently implemented the program and after a year said, “The individuals that were diverted faced complicated issues that were better addressed through active case management based in harm reduction than through the criminal justice system.” In the first year they had 40 diversions, one of them was Victor.

Victor was caught shoplifting and, despite having a 40-page rap sheet, was recommended to the LEAD program. During his initial assessment, it was discovered that he had an addiction to heroin. “Given the seriousness of his physical dependency on heroin, an immediate referral and linkage was made for Methadone Maintenance Therapy. Second, he was re-linked to primary and specialty medical care. Finally, the case manager assisted Victor with housing at a local Single Room Occupancy (SRO) program.”

Since his diversion, Victor has been housed, regularly attending treatment, and has had no rearrests.

LEAD, or some variation of it, is in place in 30 cities and counties across the country today. According to the National Support Bureau, Houston is the first city in Texas to implement the program and Austin is currently the only Texas city in the “exploration” phase.


About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.