Capital Region Legal News

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Criminal Justice Reform Comes to Albany

What can cities do to end mass incarceration?

The city of Albany, NY is leading the way in criminal justice reform with an innovative new program aimed at ending mass incarceration. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program is a so-called "harm reduction" approach to reducing arrests and recidivism.

What is the LEAD program?

LEAD's new approach gives law enforcement the power to exercise discretion when encountering criminal offenders. Rather than arresting these individuals, police have the choice of diverting them to a case manager. In so doing, low-level offenders, including those facing certain drug charges, will not become trapped in the criminal justice system. Instead, they will have access to an array of social services. Proponents of the LEAD program believe it will have a positive impact in Albany, much as it has in other cities. In Seattle, for example, since the program was launched in 2011, there has been a significant reduction in recidivism.

Endless Cycle of Incarceration

The goal of the program is to prevent low-level offenders from incessantly cycling in and out of jail which is a drain on police time and the city's resources. These individuals often have mental health and substance abuse problems that are not properly treated when they are swept up in the system. In between periods of incarceration, they are more likely to be homeless, unemployed and do not receive adequate medical care. As such, they typically end up in hospital emergency rooms seeking health care. In short, the endless cycle of arrest and incarceration is ineffective and costly.

A Public Health Approach to Crime

The concept of LEAD began gaining traction in Albany in 2014, and the program launch has been the culmination of a joint effort by community advocates, police, business leaders, health workers, charitable organizations and government officials. One unique feature of the city's LEAD program is that Medicaid funding will be available for the health services through the Albany Medical Center. In short, the program is designed to apply a health-based approach to drug and mental health problems rather than a criminal justice approach.

In the final analysis, the LEAD program is a response to what many believe is the combined failure of the neverending war on drugs and the mandatory sentencing guidelines that were implemented across the nation during the Clinton Administration. One result of these policies has been mass incarceration of low-level offenders. While the push for criminal justice reform is slowly gaining traction at the state and federal level, Albany is being proactive in experimenting with a public health approach to crime in the city.

The success of the program ultimately hinges upon the continued collaborative efforts of residents, law enforcement, and other public and private organizations. While LEAD may not remedy all the problems facing the criminal justice system, it is the first step on the road to comprehensive reform. In the meantime, if you are facing criminal charges in eastern upstate New York, please contact the criminal law attorneys at Ianniello Anderson, P.C. at (518) 350-7755.

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