ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Calvin Ball was joined by State’s Attorney Rich Gibson and local public safety and health officials to mark the one-year anniversary of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program. The program, which has seen a 91% success rate, offers individuals who participate in low-level crime, related to mental health and substance use challenges, the opportunity to be diverted to human services instead of entering the criminal justice system after an encounter with a law enforcement official. Photos from the event can be found here.

The LEAD Program has proven to be successful due to its less punitive, more effective, public-health-based approach. It remains our responsibility to, as a community, constantly evaluate and improve our public safety systems and ensure that we are providing the best possible outcomes for residents within our community. With this program, we are changing the way criminal behavior related to problematic substance use, mental illness, chronic homelessness, poverty, and other health and wellness issues are handled.

Calvin Ball
Howard County Executive

In partnership with the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services and the Maryland Department of Health, Maryland now has nine, fully operational LEAD sites, including Howard County.

 “Governor Hogan has taken a comprehensive approach to community safety that includes record funding for police and crime victims, while championing innovative rehabilitation programs like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion,” said Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services Executive Director Kunle Adeyemo. “We believe LEAD programs are an important factor in building stronger, safer communities and we look forward to seeing what they continue to accomplish going forward.”

 Prosecutors and police work closely with case managers to ensure that all contacts with LEAD participants going forward, including new criminal prosecutions for other offenses, are coordinated with the service plan for the participant to maximize the opportunity to achieve behavioral change and reduce future criminal activity. The individual will receive a wide range of support services including, but not limited to, housing referrals, benefit navigation, linkage to primary care, mental health, and recovery resources as well as job training opportunities.

 “Since the launch of the LEAD program here in Howard County, we have been able to reduce recidivism, improve the public health and safety of LEAD participants and their communities, and redirect our prosecutorial efforts towards more serious crimes,” said State’s Attorney Rich Gibson. “These goals could not have been accomplished without a strong collaboration between our partner agencies who are deeply committed to the continued success of this program.”   

In some misdemeanor cases that meet appropriate criteria, Howard County Police can now divert an individual to comprehensive case management services and peer recovery support in lieu of the criminal justice system cycle. LEAD is currently implemented by Community Outreach Division and Neighborhood Community Resource Officers within HCPD. These officers are uniquely qualified to operate with a high-level of discretionary authority due to their extensive training and existing relationships within the communities they serve.

“In Howard County, we are focused on the benefits of restorative justice and recognizing the value in reducing interaction with the criminal justice system, whenever possible,” said Police Chief Gregory Der. “It is reassuring to know that with these LEAD referrals, our officers can provide direct access to substance abuse treatment, mental health care, housing services, employment options and peer support.”

This public safety initiative is a collaborative effort between the Office of the County Executive, Howard County Police Department, Howard County Health Department, Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office, Howard County Public Defender’s Office, Howard County Department of Corrections, the Department of Community Resources and Services, and Howard County Sheriff’s Office. The Health Department facilitates a Joint Community Advisory Board (JCAB) to support both the Harm Reduction Syringe Services Program (HRSSP) and the LEAD program for Howard County residents.

 “LEAD is a powerful tool that recognizes substance use and other behavioral health issues as public health issues. This program breaks down the silos between law enforcement, health services and government and ensures that individuals receive the care and social service support required to address unmet behavioral health needs in a non-criminal justice setting” said Howard County Health Officer, Dr. Maura J. Rossman.

LEAD is an evidence-based systems approach that began in Seattle, WA in 2011. There are now 52 LEAD initiatives across the country with over 17 additional programs launching nationwide. Per the LEAD National Bureau, the program has reduced recidivism of its participants by 58% and has an average cost savings of around $3,000 dollars for each participant in LEAD vs. the “system as usual” approach.

“Last fall I had contact with Officer Cortez, of the Howard County Police Department. He offered me a chance to get services through the LEAD program. I was able to get medical care and help with housing, thanks to my LEAD Case Manager,” said Manzy Brunson, LEAD Program Participant. “Because of LEAD, I have been able to stay out of legal trouble including jail for over 9 months. I continue to work every day and am a better husband because of the changes I have made.”

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