NEW JERSEY– Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced Thursday that the Department of Law and Public Safety has received $6 million in federal funding to establish a pilot program in six areas of New Jersey that will give officers discretion to forego criminal charges against individuals repeatedly engaged in low-level crimes driven by underlying issues of addiction, poverty, and/or mental health, and instead redirect them to community-based programs and services to address those issues.
The program, known as “LEAD” (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) is a police-led initiative that will help build public trust in law enforcement, keep at-risk individuals out of the criminal justice system, and provide health and social services to communities disproportionately impacted by poverty, addiction, and/or unmet mental health needs.
“In many instances, low-level crime is the product of poverty, addiction, or mental illness,” Platkin said. “The LEAD program provides law enforcement with a tool to divert certain individuals, where appropriate, away from the criminal justice system and toward the services that will improve outcomes for them and their communities.”
“LEAD builds an ‘off ramp’ from the criminal justice system for individuals who cannot, on their own, grab hold of whatever safety-net services might be locally available,” said Kelly E. Levy, Acting Director of NJ CARES. “Instead of locking them up, officers may look beyond the symptoms and get at the root causes of their criminal behaviors and alter the systemic cycle for those individuals.”
The pilot initiative, which will be managed by the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (“NJ CARES”), is being funded through a U.S. Department of Justice grant to help combat America’s substance use crisis, which has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.
Through the program, police can look beyond the criminal activity to address the underlying causes and help individuals with unmet social and physical needs get the help they need, such as medication-assisted therapy, health and safety resources, food, housing, legal advocacy, and job training.
LEAD is the latest initiative from the Office of the Attorney General aimed at strengthening trust between law enforcement and historically marginalized communities, promoting racial justice, and ensuring equal access to care for all New Jerseyans. This is the first time the program is being implemented in New Jersey.
Since its establishment in Seattle in 2011, the LEAD program has been replicated in 20 other states across the country. Interest in the program has been growing nationwide as demands for police reforms intensify in the wake of high-profile incidents of alleged police brutality and use of excessive force against people of color and other historically oppressed or marginalized groups.
During the first six months of the grant, NJ CARES, in collaboration with public and private partners, will designate six pilot sites for the program, giving priority to areas that have been disproportionately impacted by the abuse of illicit opioids, stimulants, or other substances. The selection will be based on objective data such as a high rate of primary treatment admissions for heroin, opioids, and stimulants, a high rate of overdose deaths, and a lack of accessibility to treatment providers and facilities and to emergency medical services.
Once the pilot areas have been selected, NJ CARES will make funding available to public-health oriented entities to implement LEAD programs in those areas.
Also during this planning period, NJ CARES will hire a part-time project coordinator to manage the LEAD grant program and project sites; procure an academic partner to assist in developing and evaluating each pilot program and project outcomes; and contract with a consultant who will provide training, technical assistance, and strategic guidance in developing, implementing, or understanding LEAD initiatives, including training participating law enforcement officers, stakeholders, and coordinators of the project on the principles of LEAD, harm reduction, and the process of making a diversion.
NJ CARES is now accepting applicants to apply for the part-time coordinator position. For more information and how to apply, click here.
NJ CARES is now accepting applications from Public or Private Institutions of Higher Education to apply for funding up to $150,000 to serve as an academic partner for the program for a two-year period, as described in the Notice of Availability of Funds (NOAF) that was made public Thursday.
The full eligibility and application requirements are available online at www.njoag.gov/resources/grant-opportunities/.