Skip to main content

Seattle’s law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD): program effects on criminal justice and legal system utilization and costs



We evaluated a prebooking law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD) program (i.e., initial diversion from the criminal justice system paired with harm-reduction case management and legal assistance to individuals with repeated, low-level drug or prostitution offenses) on criminal justice and legal system utilization and associated costs.


We used a nonequivalent-groups longitudinal quasi-experimental field trial design in which participants received either the prebooking law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD) program or the comparison condition (i.e., booking and prosecution as usual). We compared outcomes for LEAD (n = 202) versus comparison (n = 114) participants on criminal justice and legal system utilization and associated costs.


Subsequent to evaluation entry, LEAD participants had 1.4 fewer average yearly jail bookings, spent about 41 fewer days in jail per year, and had 88% lower odds of prison incarceration relative to comparison participants. LEAD participants also showed significant pre-to-post reductions in legal costs (− $2100), whereas comparison participants showed cost increases (+ $5961).


LEAD was associated with statistically significant reductions in criminal justice and legal system utilization and associated costs and represents a promising alternative to the criminal justice system for repeated, low-level drug and prostitution offenders. LEAD is well positioned to positively impact criminal justice policy.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Aos, S., Lee, S., Drake, E., Pennucci, A., Klima, T., Miller, M., … Burley, M. (2011). Return on investment: Evidence-based options to improve statewide outcomes. (Document No. 11-07-1201). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

  • Carson, E. A., & Anderson, E. (2016). Prisoners in 2015. Retrieved from

  • Collins, S. E., Lonczak, H. S., & Clifasefi, S. L. (2017). Seattle’s law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD): Program effects on recidivism outcomes. Evaluation and Program Planning, 64, 49–56.

  • Drake, E. K., Aos, S., & Miller, M. G. (2009). Evidence-based public policy options to reduce crime and criminal justice costs: Implications in Washington State. Victims and Offenders, 4, 170–196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Drug Policy Alliance. (2014). A brief history of the drug war. Retrieved from Accessed 15 May 2015.

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2017). Crime in the US 2015. Retrieved From Accessed 16 Oct 2017.

  • Guo, S. Y., & Fraser, M. W. (2015). Propensity score analysis: Statistical methods and applications (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc..

    Google Scholar 

  • Hayhurst, K. P., Leitner, M., Davies, L., Flentje, R., Millar, T., Jones, A., … Shaw, J. (2015). The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of diversion and aftercare programmes for offenders using class A drugs: A systematic review and economic evaluation. Health Technology Assessment, 19, 6. doi:

  • Kaeble, D., & Glaze, L. E. (2016). Correctional populations in the United States, 2015. Retrieved from

  • Larimer, M. E., Malone, D. K., Garner, M. D., Atkins, D. C., Burlingham, B., Lonczak, H. S., … Marlatt, G. A. (2009). Health care and public service use and costs before and after provision of housing for chronically homeless persons with severe alcohol problems. Journal of the American Medical Association, 301, 1349–1357.

  • Lattimore, P. K., Broner, N., Sherman, R., Frisman, L., & Shafer, M. S. (2003). A comparison of prebooking and postbooking diversion programs for mentally ill substance-using individuals with justice involvement. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 19, 30–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • National Research Council. (2014). The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2017). National drug control budget: FY 2018 funding highlights. Retrieved from Accessed 09 March 2019.

  • Rounsaville, B. J., Carroll, K. M., & Onken, L. S. (2001). A stage model of behavioural therapies research: Getting started and moving on from stage I. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 8, 133–142.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sirotich, F. (2009). The criminal justice outcomes of jail diversion programs for persons with mental illness: A review of the evidence. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, 37, 461–472.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Walmsley, R. (2013). World population list (10th ed.). London: International Centre for Prison Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  • Warner, T. D., & Kramer, J. H. (2009). Closing the revolving door? Substance abuse treatment as an alternative to traditional sentencing for drug-dependent offenders. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 36, 89–109.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wormith, J. S. O. M. (2002). Offender treatment and attrition and its relationship with risk, responsivity and recidivism. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 29, 447–471.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We would like to acknowledge current and former members of the LEAD Evaluation Advisory Committee, including Mark Baird, Mary Barbosa, Mark Cooke, Clifton Curry, Lisa Daugaard, Ian Goodhew, Ron Jackson, Jutta Joesch, Anita Khandelwal, Kris Nyrop, Christa Valles, Natalie Walton-Anderson, and Mike West, for their valuable contributions to this manuscript. We thank the King County Prosecutor’s office for obtaining the administrative data as well as the Seattle Police Department Narcotics Unit and the REACH team for their help in obtaining the LEAD program data. We also thank Cynthia Lum, PhD, for her helpful comments on initial drafts. Finally, we acknowledge our program staff, Sara Hoang, Gail Hoffman, and Emily Taylor, for their additional administrative and data management contributions.


This program evaluation was supported by a grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. LEAD services and project management have been funded by the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the RiverStyx Foundation, the Vital Projects Fund, the Massena Foundation, and the City of Seattle.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Susan E. Collins.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material


(DOCX 28 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Collins, S.E., Lonczak, H.S. & Clifasefi, S.L. Seattle’s law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD): program effects on criminal justice and legal system utilization and costs. J Exp Criminol 15, 201–211 (2019).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Law enforcement assisted diversion
  • Criminal justice
  • Legal system
  • Harm reduction