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LEAD program tackles drug problems with support, not punishment

There has long been an argument regarding how to respond to drug offenses. On one side, there are those who support efforts to come down hard on people who violate drug crimes to send a strong message that such actions will result in harsh penalties. On the other side are those who believe that it would instead be better to help people in this situation rather than punish them.

Illinois and other states have largely pursued the former approach of aggressively punishing people who are convicted of drug possession or use. However, these methods may not be as effective as supporters would like to think. In fact, critics of this approach argue that it has done more to contribute to the problem rather than to rectify it, and the recent efforts of a community in Washington seem to be proving this.

For the past few years, certain drug offenders have been receiving very different treatment in Washington thanks to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. Participants in LEAD are given options and help in place of penalties and jail sentences.

The LEAD program offers those who are arrested for low-level drug-related offenses with an alternative path. They are not put in jail with other offenders and then dropped back out in the world without the necessary resources to avoid going back to a life of crime. Instead, they are given access to a network of support. Participants can get help not only with an addiction, but also with finding housing and employment in order to support their recovery and allow them to get back on their feet.

An evaluation into the program's approach recently revealed that the efforts appear to be paying off. Evidently, people who have participated in the LEAD program are approximately 60 percent less likely to commit a repeat offense.

Supporters of the program maintain that treating the health issue and financial instability that may have led to a person's drug offense is far more effective at decreasing recidivism and improving the future for first-time or low-level offenders than the current alternative.

What do you think? Is this approach one that should be favored in certain situations? Is it something that could find success here in Illinois?

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