What We Do

Our Approach

LEADD Washtenaw offers an alternative to arrest by providing intensive, low-barrier case management for people who commit, or are at high risk of committing, law violations related to mental illness, substance use, or chronic poverty. LEADD seeks to increase equity and reduce harm within communities by reorienting the systems that shape health and safety. Rather than punitive paradigms that stigmatize and criminalize unmanaged behavioral illness and chronic poverty, LEADD cultivates a transformation of attitudes, behaviors, and systems—made possible by local stakeholders committed to collaboration and collective response.

LEADD's Goals

Collective response to safety, poverty, and behavorial health-related issues
Public safety and public health through research-based, health-oriented, and harm reduction interventions
The number of people entering the criminal legal system due to unmet basic needs and behavioral health issues
Racial disparities at the front end of the criminal legal system
Structural investments that strengthen communities through expansion of community resources
Relationships among diverse stakeholders


  • What is the LEAD™ model?

    LEAD™ is not an organization—Instead, it’s a replicable model that helps communities increase health, equity, and safety by collectively developing new approaches to the problems associated with unmanaged behavioral illness or chronic poverty. In Washtenaw, we’ve adopted the name LEADD, emphasizing our commitment to both diverting people from arrest and deflecting them away from contact with the criminal legal system whenever possible.

    With the LEAD model, local stakeholders build coordinated pathways to non-punitive, long-term, community-based care for people who commit, or are at high risk of committing, law violations related to mental illness, substance use, or associated chronic poverty.

  • What problem is LEADD designed to address?

    After decades of an expensive, harmful, racially inequitable, and ineffective war on drugs, it’s become widely accepted that we can’t arrest our way out of the problems related to drug use and mental illness. At the same time, the public disorder, crime, and human suffering associated with unmanaged behavioral illness cannot simply be ignored, and the people suffering with these challenges must not be abandoned.

    LEADD was created to offer an alternative to the paradigm of arrest or abandonment.

    LEADD serves people who have disproportionate contact with emergency departments, psychiatric health systems, public shelters, and criminal legal systems. Sometimes dubbed “familiar faces,” these are people who cannot, on their own, grab hold of whatever safety-net services might be locally available. In short, they need a system that creates an intentional response built upon empathy, care, harm reduction, and trust.

    Guided by a collective of stakeholders, LEADD helps communities establish a new system of response and care for people whose complex behavioral health needs cannot be served through office-based, appointment-based, time-delimited care. The LEADD can best be understood as a fundamental systems change initiative that leverages a transformative direct-service through long-term, trauma-informed, coordinated care.

  • What makes LEADD different from other kinds of diversion?

    People can be diverted into LEADD at the point of potential arrest, or they can be referred to LEADD by criminal legal system stakeholders in the local community. Regardless of how someone gets referred into LEAD™, the real shift happens after diversion. LEADD’s patient, street-based, long-term, low-barrier, harm-reduction case management is the heart and soul of LEADD’s approach to transformative care.

    Unlike other forms of diversion, LEADD doesn’t impose sanctions, operate under the supervision of the criminal legal system, establish deadlines, mandate behavior, or demand abstinence.

    Instead, LEADD’s approach is grounded in the evidence of what works best to support people living with complex needs. A person’s readiness to change their behaviors follows no steady course – it can come slowly, may suffer setbacks, and is sparked by internal motivators; it’s often two steps forward, one step back.

    The criminal legal system isn’t built to respond to that reality. But LEADD is. Through collective engagement of organizations and individuals who may not otherwise work together,LEADD encourages key community stakeholders to develop systemic strategies that improve community well-being by shifting policies, practices, and resources.

  • How does LEADD operate?

    A replicable model built on a collective impact framework, LEADD can be customized in every community to reflect its local needs and priorities. As a complex systems-change initiative that relies on voluntary collaboration among diverse stakeholders, LEADD is not “owned” by any one entity. In LEADD, every partner is essential to the collective effort to address complex problems that no single entity has caused or can remedy alone.

    Washtenaw LEADD is locally developed, governed, and managed by two primary bodies: the Policy Coordinating Group (PCG) and the Operations Work Group (OWG). Collectively, these teams chart the course, review the initiative’s progress and challenges, and identify opportunities for improvement.

    As Project Manager, Hailey Richards coordinates all aspects of Washtenaw County LEADD and manages its day-to-day activities.

Download Lead Fact Sheet
For communities seeking to learn more about the LEAD model across the country and around the world, there’s only one place to go: the LEAD Support Bureau. Staffed by a team of expert practitioners, the Bureau is the only authorized resource to provide training and technical assistance for LEAD.
Go To LSB WebsiteLEAD Toolkit