Santa Fe, NM – Today, Santa Fe, New Mexico Mayor Alan Webber and drug policy and community advocates held a press conference releasing the results of the evaluation of the city’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pilot program, which revealed that the program improves health outcomes without negatively impacting public safety.
Santa Fe was the second jurisdiction in the country to implement a LEAD pre-arrest diversion program that enables law enforcement officers to utilize their discretion to redirect persons involved in non-violent, low-level drug-related crime to services instead of arrest and incarceration. These individuals receive trauma-informed, intensive case-management and other treatment and harm reduction services that the criminal justice system cannot provide.
LEAD has operated in Santa Fe since May 2014. Since then, 177 individuals have been diverted from arrest and prosecution to services and treatment. Currently, there are more than 18 jurisdictions nationwide with LEAD programs with another 11 new programs scheduled to launch soon.
“The data shows that diversion programs that stop arresting people for drug possession improve health outcomes, without compromising public safety,” said Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Treating people in the health system instead of punishing them in the criminal justice system leads to better outcomes for individuals as well as the community at large.
“We will use the data to improve and enhance the Santa Fe program, while sharing it with other cities in New Mexico and across the U.S. that are interested in replicating the model.”
As one client, unnamed, said when asked about how the program affected their life: “And you know, my life is good. I’m going to be buying a house in about a year. It could be sooner, I got preapproved—I don’t know how! But if you’d told me this a year ago, I would have said you’re crazy! But these responsibilities, is, it’s what I’ve wanted, and I’m really happy. I’m happy with life.”
The aim of the evaluation was to understand the impact of the program on individual health and public safety.
Evaluation findings indicate that LEAD involvement has had promising impacts on recidivism during early participation, could save money, and is associated with several benefits to health status and quality of life of participants. Stakeholder interviews suggest that involvement in the LEAD program has also helped reduce stigmatizing attitudes about opioid use disorder and related criminal behavior among police and other providers.
• Follow-up participants reported reductions in use of heroin, improved quality of life and gains in obtaining permanent housing.
• LEAD participants had a statistically significant decrease in the number of arrests in the first six months after diversion into the program. In the six months prior to diversion, participants had an average of 1.31 arrests, which decreased to 0.93 post-diversion. The number of new arrests in the first 6 months pre-and post-diversion decreased by 30% and the number of warrant arrests decreased by 28%. The comparison group arrest averages were largely unchanged during the six-month pre- and post-diversion time-period.
• Participants with high levels of participation in case management had fewer arrests for new charges.
• LEAD participants had no violent charges post-diversion.
• Participants were detained for significantly fewer days than the comparison group both pre-diversion (14.38, compared to 55.93) and post-diversion (22.83, compared to 126.51).
• LEAD participants had an average number of 0.62 emergency medical service calls pre-diversion compared to an average of 0.54 calls post-diversion – a 13% decrease.
• The cost savings to the criminal justice system were $4,727 per person per year – a 52% decrease.
• When the cost of the LEAD program is added to the criminal justice and emergency medical costs, the average annual cost for a LEAD client was $7,541 per client per year. Thus, overall cost savings of LEAD over the system “as usual” was 17%, saving $1,558 per client per year.
“We learned what aspects of implementation are working well and what aspects we need to improve upon to better meet intended program outcomes,” stated Shelly Moeller, Program Manager for Santa Fe LEAD. “We learned that a longer study period of the program will be needed. The average length of time that participants in this study were engaged in the program was 18 months. According to the Recovery Research Institute, it takes a typical person with an opioid use disorder up to eight years and five to six attempts at sobriety to achieve true remission from problematic substance use. Knowing this, it is important to recognize that time matters in achieving the impacts we anticipate will result from Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.”
The evaluation was recently conducted by the New Mexico Sentencing Commission in partnership with the NM Statistical Analysis Center and Pivot Evaluation.
Please visit the Santa Fe LEAD program website for a more detailed report: www.lead-santafe.org/impact/