Salem Health grant supports innovative diversion program

Criminal justice is a complicated topic.

Detaining a person who commits a crime is meant to promote public safety — but it also impacts their well-being if they drop out of school, leave jobs or lose connections to their family and support systems. Prison or jail sentences are aimed at deterring crime, but they don’t always succeed.

Studies show drug and substance abuse are at the root of more than 20% of crimes — and 68% of drug offenders are rearrested within three years after they’re released from prison. In Oregon, an average of 24,000 people are behind bars on any given day — but 42,000 others are booked into local jails annually. These repeat admissions often involve nonviolent, petty offenses involving substance abuse. The so-called churn of people cycling in and out of local jails is important — for the direct impact repeat arrests have on individuals, plus the costs and resources involved.  

Growing evidence backs up the need to treat substance abuse as a public health problem, redirecting people and resources away from prisons and jails and towards treatment. Studies demonstrate this is cost effective and proven to yield better results

Salem Health grant supports local diversion program

In recent years, Marion and Polk County stakeholders decided to rethink their approach to frequent, low-level offenders. Like their national counterparts, local authorities caught people shoplifting, trespassing or violating minor drug offenses — who were also dealing with addiction or a mental health crisis, typically fueled by substance abuse.

These underlying issues led to actions that conflicted with the law.

Meanwhile, the arrest, detention and subsequent release of these individuals were doing little to address addiction, housing or mental health concerns — and ultimately had little to no effect on criminal behavior. Local stakeholders became convinced these men and women needed treatment and someone to walk alongside them to coordinate care.

Thanks to a Salem Health $30,000 grant, more local residents struggling with drug and substance abuse are receiving treatment and social support services through the Marion County Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.

How diversion works

The Marion County LEAD program identifies people engaged in behavior that fits the legal definition of a crime — but who face underlying issues that may be driving that behavior such as housing instability, unemployment or substance abuse problems. Instead of arresting them, law enforcement officers connect them with trained case managers — who then help set goals, identify community resources and navigate systems to reach goals.

Case managers support these individuals for as long as needed to address social determinants of health such as housing and employment, while facilitating access to treatment services for their addiction. Diverting people towards community support systems increases their possibility of finding stability — a key ingredient on the road to genuine recovery.

Marion County LEAD is modelled after Seattle LEAD, an evidence-based program which has achieved a 58% reduction in recidivism. Replicating this success would further strengthen the case for a public health approach to low-level, nonviolent offenses.

Both national and local incarceration trends make it clear it’s an approach worth trying. Salem Health is proud to be able to support this effort.