“We have handcuffs and guns and maybe some pepper spray; that’s what we’ve got for tools,” said Chief Deputy Jason Trundy, of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, in a news release. “But many of the calls we receive are about conflict, mental health, substance use or poverty. This pilot is about trying to resolve the issues, at their core, so that it doesn’t continue to circulate or to grow.”
The Restorative Justice Project Maine (RJP Maine), in partnership with Health Equity Alliance (HEAL) and the Waldo and Knox County Sheriff’s Office, announces the launch of the innovative pilot project LEAD. Focused on addressing the root causes of harmful behavior through local and personalized support and accountability, LEAD is designed to provide law enforcement officers with the capacity to deflect individuals to
community-based programming in lieu of summons or arrest. Further, it also provides officers with the opportunity to make “social contact” referrals in instances where concerning behaviors have not escalated to the level of a crime.
The LEAD initiative, while officially kicking off on October 1 of this year, has been almost a year in the making. In November of 2019, representatives from each of the partner organizations, along with District Attorney Natasha Irving, attended the second national Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative Conference in Ponte Vedra, Florida. This conference provided representatives with the opportunity to learn from other communities who were further along in their deflection/ diversion efforts.
Inspired by this conference, a collaborative team formed and has managed the planning, research and design of LEAD. Representatives from each of the partner organizations include: RJP Maine’s Community Resolution Program Manager, Sarah Mattox; HEAL’s Harm Reduction Manager, Ashley Brown; and Chief Deputies of the Waldo and Knox County Sheriff’s Offices, Jason Trundy and Pat Polky, respectively.
Under the auspices of this pilot, HEAL is providing a full-time targeted case manager in both Waldo and Knox Counties; the purpose of targeted case management is to connect willing individuals with resources and support. According to Trundy, this could include recovery support, mental health treatment, employment or daily living resources such as food, transportation and shelter. The individualized case management plans will be designed in cooperation with the participating individual and will be specific to the needs and goals of that individual. The overall goal of targeted case management is to connect individuals with resources in order to promote independence, stability and dignity while reducing contact with the legal system.
Within the context of this pilot, RJP Maine will accept referrals to their long-standing Community Resolution Program from officers – and from the public – to address incidents of interpersonal harm, conflict and crime through use of a facilitated restorative justice process. Built on the values of self-determination and fairness, restorative justice engages those most affected by an incident or concern into a voluntary process called a restorative conference. In a restorative conference, parties work together to review what happened, share who was affected and how, and collaborate to assemble a repair agreement that articulates what needs to be done to make things as right as possible and to prevent something like it from happening again in the future. This process has a 94% rate of agreement completion, and 97% of people who have been harmed indicate that they found the process helpful and would recommend it to someone else in a similar situation, according to Trundy.
“Through this process, it is often possible to come to an understanding available only when one party can hear the perspective of another and participate directly in articulating what action(s) is necessary,” he said.
According to the National LEAD webpage, the goals of the LEAD program are to:
● Engage community members with mental health and substance-use issues to offer them trauma-informed and harm reduction-based services
● Reduce recidivism rates for community members who are frequently arrested for low-level crimes often due to unaddressed mental health or substance use issues
● Save taxpayer dollars by diverting people with mental health or substance-use issues from the criminal justice system and offering them more appropriate and cost-effective services
● Free up law enforcement to focus on the many other pressing issues.
This pilot provides the additional complementary opportunity for officers to divert to restorative justice, either as a stand-alone or in addition to a referral for case management services, and intends to maximize effectiveness of community diversion by providing support to people who have been harmed in order to promote opportunity to care for and repair harm to damaged relationships thus improving community well-being.
Those interested in learning more about this initiative or wanting to make a referral are encouraged to contact RJP Maine or one of the partner organizations referenced above. More information about LEAD can be found on RJP Maine’s website, rjpmidcoast.org.
“RJP Maine is pleased to be part of this alternative approach where the community steps in to address harmful behaviors and conflicts without getting the courts involved,” said Exec. Director Kathy Durgin Leighton, RJP Maine. “This begins a reimagined justice system where, rather than relying on punitive measures, individual lives and communities are healed and transformed.”