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City of Seattle, Public Defender Association Announce New Partnership to Operate Co-LEAD in Seattle during COVID-19 Crisis

SEATTLE (May 26, 2020) – The City of Seattle and the Public Defender Association have revised their LEAD contract to bring Co-LEAD to Seattle during the COVID-19 crisis. Co-LEAD is an interim program of LEAD designed to provide services and stabilization for individuals who might, for public safety reasons, otherwise be in the criminal justice system custody, but are not being arrested, charged or otherwise detained due to public health considerations regarding COVID-19.   

“To stop people from just cycling through the criminal justice system, last summer our Low Barrier workgroup highlighted the need for programs that provided stabilizing services – including case management, behavioral health and housing. The pandemic has made that need is even greater today,” said Mayor Jenny A. Durkan. “For the last year, we have been working with LEAD to create such a model, and are enthusiastic that Co-LEAD provides the opportunity to provide these services for the benefit of the individuals and the community.” 

“The population LEAD is meant to reach–people who commit low-level law violations related to behavioral health problems or extreme poverty–is facing even harsher conditions than before the COVID crisis. Crime reduction, in this context, requires helping people meet their basic needs in legal ways. We really appreciate the City of Seattle and SPD partnering with the Co-LEAD team to provide wrap-around care to some of the most vulnerable people on our streets,” said Lisa Daugaard, Public Defender Association Executive Director. “With the security provided by temporary lodging and the supportive Co-LEAD team, we’ve already seen most participants doing much better. Several people have transitioned to medication-assisted treatment, a few have already found employment, and several have accessed essential medical care. We’ll work hard over the next few months to explore what works for this group of people, which we hope can inform City leaders seeking a sustainable approach going forward.” 

“The Council heard directly from the Public Defender Association the success stories experienced in other Sound cities, so I’m thrilled Seattle will make Co-LEAD a critical part of our response to the COVID crisis. Co-LEAD has proven to be effective, building relationships with our vulnerable neighbors cycling through the criminal justice system who are hardest hit by our ongoing emergency. We must continue to provide the services necessary to help individuals begin on a new path with respect and dignity,” said Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis (District 7, Pioneer Square to Magnolia), chair of the Council’s Select Committee on Homelessness Strategies and Investments. 

“We have seen this program yield significant results in Burien. This is the time to invest in programs that work to keep people out of the criminal system and streets, giving them a fighting chance to get access to the services they need to get their life back,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (Position 8, Citywide), I trust the collaborative approach of Co-Lead, the City of Seattle is fortunate to have them as a valued partner.” 

Last year, Mayor Durkan convened the High Barrier Individual Working Group (HBIWG), a cross-jurisdictional body with members consisting of Seattle Municipal and King County Superior Court judges, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, the King County Prosecutors Office, Seattle Police Department, Public Health – Seattle & King County, County and City elected officials and department leaders, service providers, advocates, and more. Similar to the Co-LEAD model, the HBIWG was charged with addressing the growing challenge of individuals with frequent interactions with the criminal justice system and for whom regular interventions were not successful.  

In response to the ongoing public health crisis and to mitigate COVID-19 spread, in March, both the Seattle Municipal and King County Courts significantly limited and, in some cases, suspended operations including jury trials and in-person probation appointments. Normal operations are under consideration to resume this summer. At the same time, jails have restricted bookings to only accept individuals accused of actions that present an imminent risk to public safety. In addition, following public health guidelines for social distancing, in recent weeks approximately 600 individuals have been released or are being considered for release from corrections facilities. King County maintains jurisdiction over felony cases.   

Concurrently, social service providers that offer many supplemental supports that can be the connective tissue of a successful intervention have limited their caseloads to ensure appropriate levels of management for existing clients.   

To address this gap, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and community stakeholders will work with Co-LEAD to ensure eligible individuals have access to basic needs like food, medication, or temporary housing for individuals experiencing homelessness while helping make connections to long-term housing and behavioral health needs. The highly-concentrated approach utilizes a reduced caseload, to allow for more robust case management, with daily check-ins. It enables quick access to substance use medication-assisted treatment (MAT), behavioral health services, and housing navigation. With fewer arrests to divert, the program will be funded using a portion of the existing LEAD budget, accepting up to 120 clients.   

Similar to LEAD, Co-LEAD is first and foremost a program to reduce criminal justice system recidivism, but understands that individuals may need additional supports including temporary housing. To that end, it will work with SPD to identify potentially eligible individuals, including persons living in encampments where extreme circumstances pose a heightened risk to public health and/or public safety of those living in or around the encampment.