This watchsite is maintained by the Global Health Justice Partnership of Yale Law School and School of Public Health in collaboration with the Sex Workers and Allies Network of New Haven as a public tool to build accountability and transparency through monitoring the history, funding, and operations of the pilot LEAD pilot program in New Haven.


What is the New Haven pilot LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) Program?


In November 2017, the City of New Haven launched a pilot version of a pre-booking diversion program known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). The LEAD model, originating in Seattle, aims to reduce criminal legal system involvement for individuals who commit “law violations driven by unmet behavioral health needs.” In the LEAD model, police officers are generally given discretionary authority at point of contact to divert individuals who commit (or are at risk of committing) certain low-level offenses to case management and social services, instead of traditional prosecution and criminal legal system proceedings. The offenses eligible for diversion are generally street-level “petty offenses”, such as those associated with drug use, houselessness, mental illness, poverty and sex work. The claimed overall goal is harm reduction for the participant, their families, and the community.


To our knowledge at the time of writing (April 2020), the City of New Haven’s pilot LEAD program appears to have slowed or ceased entirely due to a range of factors, including: lack of meaningful community input and involvement in program oversight; failure to achieve law enforcement buy-in to a harm reduction approach of addressing “petty offenses” with services instead of punishment; inappropriate fit for the New Haven criminal legal and social service context; and non-renewal of funding. 

While the pilot was active, the only program information made public by the City was through a poorly publicized dashboard:

It should be noted that the dashboard reports only active LEAD cases, broken down by demographics, and does not reflect cumulative numbers of people who have ever been in NHV LEAD. Meeting notes from the LEAD Policy and Operational Working Groups are also supposed to be archived on the dashboard. 

What is the LEAD National Support Bureau

The LEAD National Support Bureau is a project of the Public Defender Association (PDA), based in Seattle, WA.  The LEAD National Support Bureau developed the core elements of a functional and effective LEAD program, and provides support to jurisdictions that are looking to implement LEAD programs or assess the effectiveness of existing programs. The GHJP and SWAN have used the core principles articulated by the National Support Bureau to assess whether the New Haven LEAD pilot had fidelity with the national model.

GHJP and SWAN's Approach to Assessing LEAD's Functionality

Our approach to assessing the fidelity and appropriateness of fit of New Haven’s pilot LEAD program has been guided by the following questions:

  1. Was the pilot designed and implemented in accordance with the LEAD National Support Bureau's guidelines and core principles?

  2. Even if the pilot has fidelity with national guidelines and core principles, is the LEAD model an appropriate fit for the New Haven context? Does it meet the needs of communities? Some questions we considered include:

    • What social services are people being connected to through LEAD? Are these services desired by community members and effective in responding to their needs?

    • Is LEAD reducing criminal legal system involvement for communities in New Haven, in terms of police contact, arrests, prosecution and incarceration?  

    • What is New Haven’s capacity for implementing this program?

Summary of Key Concerns About the New Haven LEAD Program

  1. People are not actually being diverted from arrest. Few participants have been referred to LEAD instead of arrest. The vast majority entered through “social contact” referrals by the police (meaning they did not commit an eligible offense, but were deemed at “high-risk” of committing an offense in the future). Rather than diversion from criminal justice, New Haven may be increasing police contact with residents by enabling police officers to act as street outreach workers. 

  2. No services are provided through LEAD other than those that already exist. No more units of housing have been created, or more shelter or drug treatment beds. Rather than improve or expand needed services, LEAD facilitates connections to existing services that most people have already encountered or tried. Participants accessed the same resources, but in a program where they are tracked by the police and prosecutors.

  3. One of the core principles of LEAD is community involvement in the program's design and management. To date, the City has failed to meaningfully engage potential LEAD participants in program planning and governance.​

Beyond LEAD: GHJP and SWAN’s Recommendations

To our knowledge, the New Haven LEAD Pilot Program was declared complete at the beginning of 2020. The Formative Evaluation of the pilot, conducted by Dr. Paul Joudrey and released in January 2020, identified significant challenges and very few positive results, in alignment with GHJP’s and SWAN’s assessment that LEAD is not the right program for New Haven. Additionally, it appears that the bulk of the funding for the program has expired or will be expiring and additional funding has not been secured. This is a critical juncture for the City to rethink the role of LEAD and to develop community-based alternatives that meet social service needs independently of the police. 

While LEAD was not an appropriate fit for New Haven, we believe that the underlying issues that the program attempted to address still exist: there are ongoing needs to improve the coordination, quality and accessibility of social services, including harm reduction programs, and to address the harmful policing and criminalization of “petty offenses” in the City of New Haven. In lieu of re-applying for further funding for the LEAD program, we think the City should develop strategies to support and build on the strengths of existing community-based harm reduction organizations already providing direct services to the populations targeted by LEAD. We believe that any future interventions should involve sustained and meaningful community consultation and leadership and should not be contingent on police contact or any other engagement with the criminal legal system more generally.



Do you have questions or opinions about the LEAD program? Have you been offered the LEAD program yourself? Do you want to stay updated about our research or are interested in getting involved? Please reach out to us at the email address:

©2018 by LEAD Watch Site.

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