Seattle is using a radical approach to counter drug use in the city, offering help to people who possess small amounts of drugs instead of charging them with misdemeanors, The Washington Post reports.
King County District Attorney Dan Satterberg implemented the change late last year after his sister, Shelley, died from health complications related to her drug addiction.
“If you believe it’s a disease, you should treat it like it’s diabetes or cancer,” Satterberg told the Post. “We shouldn’t arrest people and put them in jail because they are sick.”
When a police officer finds someone with less than a gram of drugs, they can call a case manager from the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program to start working with that person.
“Or maybe their emergent needs like a shower, a meal, or they have been off their meds,” Sattterberg told a local news outlet last August.
LEAD, established in 2011, aims to divert offenders suspected of low-level drug and prostitution to case management and wrap-around services instead of traditional booking and criminal prosecution.
Additionally, drug users who are facing other charges are given help instead of incarceration in Seattle’s drug court.
There is not much data to examine the impact of the program, though Satterberg said studies out of the University of Washington show 60% of people in the LEAD program do not re-offend.
“So this population we are dealing with, we have three options, and every other community in the world has these three options: you can ignore the problem; you can try to punish your way out of it; or you can try to help people,” he said.