Those convicted of low-level crimes and drug offenses make up a huge amount of the prisoners serving time in local, state, and federal prisons in our state, and their numbers are only increasing. So many low-level offenders are being incarcerated that our prisons are now facing overcrowding and have become an enormous expense for taxpayers. It probably also won’t come as much of a surprise that a disproportionate amount of minorities are being arrested and incarcerated.
Partially because of these issues, Fayetteville is looking to reform the way it treats low-level drug offenders by providing rehabilitation options over prison sentences. These reforms will take place later in the year through the enactment of the LEAD program.
What Is the LEAD Program?
The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD) began in Seattle as a way for law enforcement and community advocates to work together and keep minorities out of prison for low-level crimes. It gives police officers the authority to refer people committing low-level crimes to a rehabilitation program, rather than putting the person under arrest. Low-level crimes include buying and selling small amounts of drugs, theft of small amounts, and prostitution.
Seattle has seen great success since the program was enacted in 2011. Studies report that over half of the people who participated in the LEAD program were less likely to be arrested for future crimes.
In December 2015, the Open Society Foundation gifted a grant of $200,000 to seven American cities to help them get their own LEAD programs off the ground. Fayetteville was one of the cities chosen, along with Camden, NJ, Philadelphia, PA, Atlanta, GA, Bangor, ME, Los Angeles, CA, and Milwaukee, WI.
Alliance Behavioral Healthcare has also committed $250,000 to enacting the LEAD program in Fayetteville. As studies from the LEAD program in Santa Fe, New Mexico, show, LEAD can save a city a great amount of money. The city spends an average of $41,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate, but only $6,000 to provide LEAD participants with rehabilitation options.
LEAD in Fayetteville
How will this program affect Fayetteville citizens?
If someone is caught in possession of less than four grams of illegal drugs, or caught in the act of petty larceny or prostitution, they may be eligible for the LEAD program and avoid arrest. They will be referred to treatment centers or specialists who will evaluate their situation. Based on the person’s needs, they may receive help to find housing, job placement, federal assistance, or obtain proper identification.
The LEAD program aims to have a positive effect on a large number of Fayetteville citizens – currently, the city is ranked 18th in the nation for opioid abuse.
The program is scheduled to take effect in Fayetteville in December, but officials say that police may enact the program sooner.
Current Penalties for Low-Level Crimes in North Carolina
Hopefully, the LEAD program will see success in Fayetteville and expand throughout the state of North Carolina. The state’s preliminary budget has set aside $3 million to enact the program statewide if Fayetteville sees positive results and a lower rate of drug arrests. Until we see the results in Fayetteville, however, current penalties for drug possession and low-level crimes still apply throughout the state of North Carolina.
- If you are caught in possession of a Schedule I drug (heroin, LSD, ecstasy) or a Schedule II drug (cocaine, morphine, methamphetamine) you could be charged with a Class I felony and face 3-12 months in prison.
- If you are caught engaged in a larceny of less than $1,000 worth of goods, you could be charged with a Class I misdemeanor and face up to a year in prison.
- If you are caught engaged in prostitution or solicitation of a prostitute (and it is your first offense), you could be charged with a Class I misdemeanor and face up to a year in prison.
Penalties for offenders with prior convictions are typically steeper. The LEAD program hopes to eliminate these first chances for an offender to be charged or convicted of a crime, so their first run-in with the law is their last.
A Move toward Rehabilitation
More and more cities are seeing the benefits of providing rehabilitation to low-level offenders, rather than enacting harsh punishments and jail sentences. If you are charged with a low-level offense, you can use rehabilitation as a defense strategy. If you let the judge or jury know that you have looked into, and have interest in, a rehabilitation program, you may face a shorter sentence and can avoid jail time.
About the Author:
Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973.