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Research Shows Seattle's Program To Connect Low-Level Offenders With Services Is Working

Ansel Herz
The Stranger
Misti Barrickman and her LEAD case manager, Chris Cates

For the past few years, Seattle has experimented with a different approach to handling low-level drug and prostitution crimes, and new research shows that it’s paying off.

Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program aims to end the revolving door for people who cycle in and out of the justice system. It offers job training, housing and drug treatment to some offenders instead of prosecution. 

MistiBarrickman is 34 years old and can’t even keep track of how many times she’s been arrested.

"Oh my goodness, more than a couple. Like 50 times minimum, at least?" she said.

Barrickman was hooked on heroin and crack and would commit crimes to support her addictions. In fall of 2012 she was picked up by the police a few days before she was supposed to start methadone treatment.

She asked to speak with the sergeant.

"I told him if I didn’t get to get on methadone, I was probably going to die," she said.

The police sergeant connected her with a LEAD case manager, who helped her get stable enough to get clean.

"I was able to get my life together and start school," she said. She's studying at Seattle Central College and says she'd eventually like to get a master's in social work to help at-risk youth.

University of Washington research shows that participants in LEAD are 60 percent less likely than other offenders to be arrested again. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.