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KRQE: New program to give non-violent offenders option for treatment over jail

11/19/2018
12:20 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - It's a new program aimed at putting an end to petty crimes by people who suffer from drug abuse and mental illness. It's also supposed to help put these people back on the road to recovery so they don't offend again.

Bernalillo County commissioners recently approved bringing the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program, or 'LEAD,' to the area. The idea is to give some people the option to either get help or go to jail.

"If we don't address the root causes of what's driving people's criminal behavior, they're going to continue to cycle in and out of our jail," says Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins. Hart Stebbins says a lot of the criminal behavior throughout the county comes from people who suffer from drug abuse or mental illness.

She's hoping LEAD will help stop some of the crime. "For some people if they're committing a property crime to feed an addiction, they have the option of getting into treatment," says Hart Stebbins. LEAD was approved by the commission earlier this week with a $250,000 price tag.

The county will work with APD, BCSO, MDC, the DA's Office, and public defenders. So far, APD is embracing the idea. "Police interact with them on a daily basis, and I think it makes sense to get them the services they need rather than to lock them up," says Gilbert Gallegos with APD. Police say sending people with drug or mental health issues to jail doesn't help them overcome their struggles. "So if they get those services, they're most more likely to find employment and homes," says Gallegos.

The program has already been successfully implemented in Santa Fe and Seattle. Commissioner Hart Stebbins says those two cities were the biggest inspirations to kick start LEAD in Bernalillo County. "We learn a lot from Seattle, from Santa Fe, from some of the communities where this is functioning. That's what we want to do. Not recreate the wheel, but learn from others. What works, what doesn't. How can we be successful here," she says.

A majority of that $250,000 will go towards hiring case managers to work with the people entering into the program. The county hopes to hire at least four case managers. County Commissioners still need to identify what crimes are considered 'non-violent.' The hope is to have this program up and running by July 2019.

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