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Seattle’s ‘Blake Fix’ is leading jail diversion program to max capacity

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(The Center Square) – The City of Seattle’s contracted jail diversion program has had to resort to covering three specific areas as a result of increased referrals stemming from the city’s recent drug prosecution law.

Let Everyone Advance with Dignity, or “LEAD” is a post-arrest and pre-booking program that allows law enforcement to redirect people engaged in low-level offenses to community-based services instead of jail and prosecution.

Co-LEAD launched in 2020 to expand the larger model of care. This program provides temporary lodging and intensive case management to LEAD-eligible persons who are homeless.

The LEAD program plays a big role in the recently approved city legislation that lines up with legislation passed by the state Legislature in the 2023 session. The legislation– known as the Blake fix – makes the use or possession of controlled substances in a public place a gross misdemeanor. The new Seattle law prioritizes jail diversion for offenders, where officers can refer people in custody to programs.

At a Seattle Public Safety and Human Services Committee meeting on Dec. 12, Lisa Daugaard, Co‐Executive Director of the LEAD Project Management Team, said the program has never widely advertised itself because “whenever we have come close to doing that, the program has been overwhelmed by totally appropriate requests for response.”

Current census showed 759 people participated in the LEAD program. Given that the program has 53 case managers, they are handling approximately 14 participants each, according to the presentation. Daugaard said that with current ratios and current rates of referrals, the program will hit its absolute capacity “somewhere between April and May” of next year.

In 2022, the program covered the entire city limits for referrals of people not in police custody. However, after Oct. 20, when the city’s new drug possession law was under effect, the program only accepted community referrals from the Rainier Valley, Chinatown-International District and the South Lake Union areas.

According to the presentation, 87% of the 44 accepted community referrals from October through November 2023 come from three areas: Rainier Beach, the Chinatown‐International District, and upper Third Avenue.

The Center Square previously reported on the programs denying high-qualified referrals based on their current funding back in May.

The contract between LEAD and Co-LEAD with the City of Seattle has a budget of $14.5 million. Of the total contract, $9.9 million, is allocated to the LEAD program and $4.6 million for the Co-LEAD program. The Seattle Human Services Department also holds $2 million for Co-LEAD lease costs of one building used for its operations.

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold – who will no longer be on the council in 2024 – said if next year’s city council is interested in expanding the LEAD program’s capacity, there will need to be additional funding. Fellow Councilmember Sara Nelson added that the region and state need to step up to help fund the capacity of the city’s diversion program.

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