It’s a heavy lift achieving racial equity within well-established systems, including criminal justice, but that’s the goal of the Albany LEAD program: To drive greater racial equity in the legal system. 

LEAD, which is an acronym for “Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion," started in Seattle, Washington in 2011. The program came to Albany in 2016. Since its inception, Albany Police have diverted 315 people from arrest.

Police officers in Albany may offer LEAD diversion to people who otherwise would face arrest because of actions taken due to substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness or poverty.  

According to Albany Lead’s co-project manager Jennie Huling, the program is an attempt to stop the cycle of incarceration.

“These low-level charges where people cycle through systems that are not equipped to actually help them and resolve what’s actually going on — we can’t keep doing that,” she said. 

Individuals referred to LEAD receive immediate access to harm reduction-based intensive case management.

“If an officer assesses that a person needs help, instead of making an arrest on a low-level, non-violent charge, they call up Catholic Charities and see if the person can get some help through a case manager, through Albany LEAD,” Huling explained.

Ideally, a case manager will immediately come out to meet the individual to hear directly from them what they need. 

Huling told Capital Tonight that the cities of Cohoes and Watervliet plan to implement the program next year. In New York state, LEAD has already been established in Dutchess, Greene, Niagara, Schenectady and Schoharie counties. 

For more information, visit the Albany LEAD website,