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This January, Washtenaw County and the City of Detroit were among 15 jurisdictions hand picked from regions across the country to participate in the inaugural LEAD National Learning Conference hosted by the U.S. Public Defender Association and the LEAD National Support Bureau in Seattle, WA.
Seventy-five leaders attended the three-day training and joined the learning cohort, including five from Washtenaw County’s Office of the Public Defender, Community Mental Health, and Sheriff’s Office. Twenty trainers helped these leaders learn about the evidence-based pre-booking diversion model, which is built around law enforcement engagement, including its origins, core principles, racial equity focus, and shared governance structure. The training also helped leaders, including those from Washtenaw County, plan for community partnerships, political and financial sustainability, and short- and long-term action.
“LEAD is a pre-booking diversion system,” says Derrick Jackson, director of community engagement for the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office. “At the conference, we heard individuals with lived experience talk about being booked in the jail--both the profound economic, social, and psychological ripple effects it had on their families and the trauma it left behind--and the point is to avoid that when possible, while helping individuals access the mental health and substance use treatments they need to recover.”
“It’s really the public health approach to dealing with mental health, addiction, trafficking and trauma,” says Lisa Gentz, millage program administrator for Washtenaw County Community Mental Health. “And it’s about recognizing and acknowledging that the criminal justice system, as well intentioned as it is, and for all the good that it does, has sometimes also perpetuated harm,” says Delphia Simpson, Washtenaw County public defender.
“We’re fortunate in Washtenaw County that we already have good relationships between community mental health, the sheriff’s office, and the justice system. But at the training, we strengthened those relationships as we developed a 30-day action plan we’ll launch on our return,” says Simpson. “When we begin the difficult work of systems change, we need to trust that intentions are good, that people are the experts in their areas, and that different disciplines and philosophies will only strengthen our work.”
Marlene Radzik, retired police services commander, will be dedicating 100 percent of her time to implementing the action plan in the months ahead. What will that entail? It will begin by identifying a pilot area to sponsor the approach, engaging local stakeholders in the community and law enforcement agency, identifying policies and procedures that might need to be changed to accommodate LEAD’s harm reduction protocols, and putting together a memorandum of understanding for the pilot program.
Nancy Hansen, police services captain and crisis negotiations team commander, says one of the most exciting things about LEAD is that it will strengthen the relationships Washtenaw County deputies have with the community.
Simpson concurs, saying “LEAD makes sure that the criminal justice system is used for what it’s meant to be used for, and doesn’t take the place of treatment.”