PORTLAND, Ore. – A new diversion program for low level drug offenders kicks off Tuesday. LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) started in Seattle in 2011, and is considered so successful other cities are now using it as a model. Multnomah LEAD’s pilot program goal is to enroll up to 500 people over the next year. It should cost about half of what it costs to convict and incarcerate.

The non-profit Central City Concern is a big partner, supplying ten case managers.
They will work with the people Portland police find carrying small amounts or doing drugs-- from heroin, to other harmful substances.

Police will be trained to know who qualifies, and how to get them into the LEAD program. The idea is to lessen the harm already done by offering addiction treatment and other support, as opposed to convictions and jail time.

“In doing so we believe we will have healthier individuals, healthier families and community, and have a justice system that is more fair and just, especially to people of color and others”, said Rod Underhill, Multnomah County District Attorney.

Multnomah County invested 800-thousand dollars into this pilot program that leaders expect will be a good investment.

“That means better lives for those touched by our criminal justice system and a better return of taxpayer dollars,” said Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County Chair.

Those enrolled in Seattle’s LEAD program have been 58-percent less likely to be arrested than those not enrolled in the program.