Lack of Referrals Slows Launch of Arrest Diversion Program ”Albuquerque Journal
Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
A program to refer low-level offenders to social programs with the aim of preventing them from entering prison and the justice system was announced with fanfare in 2019, when officials predicted it would grow rapidly, improve. life and save taxpayers money.
But two years after its launch, the law enforcement-assisted diversion program, or LEAD, has two social workers who had served just seven active clients as of April, according to data from the LEAD program.
The program received only a small number of referrals from law enforcement agencies.
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As of May 12, LEAD had received 98 client referrals since the program obtained its first referral in April 2019. These include 72 referrals from the Albuquerque Police Department, 24 from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, and two more. sources.
Program officials cite several reasons for the slow start, including COVID-19 restrictions, demotivated customers, and skepticism from some law enforcement officers tasked with guiding low-intensity drug and crime offenders. against property in the program as an alternative to arrest.
But they also expressed optimism that the project will expand in the future due to new leadership, additional federal funding, and the easing of pandemic restrictions that made it possible to train in-person. officers for the first time in over a year.
Glenn St. Onge, who was hired in March as LEAD’s program manager, acknowledges that some officers view the program as a “no-get-out card” that will do little to change criminal behavior.
“Anything new the officers don’t like,” said St. Onge, a former DPA lieutenant who worked for the department for 20 years before retiring in 2016.
“You will always have your skeptics,” he said. “I try to meet them at their level and understand why they feel that way. I may not be able to change their perception, but I can try to make them aware of the program.
The easing of COVID-19 restrictions allowed in-person training to be suspended in early 2020. St. Onge hosted two training sessions for Bernalillo County MPs, resulting in LEAD certification for 30 MPs, did he declare.
ODA has its own LEAD training, but St. Onge is also working in the field with ODA officers, he said.
“In fact, we had very good engagement from MPs, ODA officers, who asked very good questions,” he said.
He credits face-to-face training with increasing the number of LEAD referrals to 18 in May.
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office was just starting to increase LEAD credentials when the pandemic hit, BCSO Sgt. said Amy Dudewicz.
“The thing that sort of fell apart with LEAD was COVID-19,” she said.
BCSO created a LEAD training video that had only limited effectiveness, she said.
“Just having one person standing in front of a group to explain how this program works makes a huge difference,” said Dudewicz.
MPs have also had limited contact with potential LEAD customers due to COVID-19 restrictions, she said.
The program also received an injection of federal funding.
LEAD received a $ 1 million, three-year federal grant this year that enabled the program to hire St. Onge, said Charlie Verploegh, deputy director of the Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Services Department.
Federal funding will also fund housing for LEAD clients, many of whom are homeless, she said.
LEAD receives $ 250,000 per year from the Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Tax which pays case managers and other costs.
Homelessness is one of the reasons people referred to the program fail to stay in touch with case managers, Verploegh said.
“The target population for this program is hard to reach, hard to engage,” she said.
Of the 98 referrals made to the LEAD program since its inception, only 44 have completed the admissions process, according to program data.
Verploegh cites the difficulty in gaining engagement with customers as a primary reason for the underutilization of the LEAD program.
The LEAD program eventually plans to expand its referral network beyond law enforcement agencies to community partners, such as agencies that work with homeless people, Verploegh said.