LEAD concludes year with plans of expansion

Providing a LEAD update during a recent Alamosa city council meeting are from left Deputy District Attorney Jordan Welch, Alamosa Police Chief Ken Anderson, Center for Restorative Programs Operations Director Clarissa Woodworth and LEAD Program Manager Carey Deacon./Courier photo by Ruth Heide

ALAMOSA — Already making a difference in local residents’ lives in its first year of operation, the LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program is planning to expand in the future, LEAD partners told the Alamosa city council in a recent update on the program.

LEAD Program Manager Carey Deacon said staff has been speaking with law enforcement agencies and municipalities in Rio Grande County such as the sheriff’s department and South Fork Police Department about expanding LEAD into that part of the San Luis Valley. They are coordinating training for those agencies so they will be ready to participate.

LEAD is a diversion program that offers a variety of services to help keep people out of the court system. It is operated through the Center for Restorative Programs through a grant awarded the City of Alamosa. Participants are referred by Alamosa police officers at their discretion.

Currently there are 17 clients in the LEAD program, and they can remain in the program as long as they need to, Deacon explained. “There’s no real graduation date, no end date.”

Some clients may have daily contact with LEAD caseworkers and others less often.

Assistance can range from treatment to a hotel room or accompanying clients for court appearances or helping them get food stamps reinstated or text messaging encouraging words to them.

“We are a safe, nonjudgmental place,” Deacon said.

Participants are experiencing success. For example, one participant had been sober 98 days at the time of the LEAD team’s report to city council.

Deacon added that the team has also seen positive impacts on family members of LEAD clients.

Deputy District Attorney Jordan Welch said one client he had stuck his neck out for in court was now doing great. “He’s turning his entire life around for the better,” he said.

Deacon said she is grateful for the cooperation and partnerships the program has here, especially since that is not always the case in other areas.

“The cooperation of law enforcement, first and foremost, and also the community is humbling for me,” Deacon said.

She said partners have been willing to figure out ways to meet needs and challenges for the LEAD participants.

“I appreciate everybody’s support,” she said.

Center for Restorative Programs Operations Director Clarissa Woodworth added that the SLV Behavioral Health Group, Valley-Wide Health Systems and SLV Health have worked closely with the LEAD program to help provide treatment options.

Alamosa Police Chief Ken Anderson, an integral part of the LEAD partnership, said he has heard positive feedback about the program so far. He added his officers have been receptive to it.

Welch said he is seeing increased participation in the program and more success stories, which he hoped would continue.

“The more candidates we get, the more opportunities we are having to take a different approach,” he said.

Alamosa City Attorney Erich Schwiesow, who is assuming city prosecutorial duties as well, said he is looking forward to working with the program.

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said Alamosa wants to expand the program in a thoughtful way working with other Valley communities and the Center for Restorative Programs, making sure they have the capacity to deal with increased caseloads. The current grant that is funding the program has two years left, which will give everyone time to fully assess its impacts, she added, “and try to get it out to as much of the Valley as we can.”

Brooks said the initial grant for the LEAD program here was very generous, providing money for wrap-around services, district attorney staff, case managers and other costs. There are no guarantees for funding at the end of this grant period, she added, but the city will probably apply for further grants to continue the program in the future.

City staff members are also planning ahead, she added. For example, when the municipal court has savings at the end of the year, instead of rolling that into the general fund, the city will save that towards the LEAD program.

“We are not going to be able to do it alone,” she said. “We would need to look to partners and other agencies.”

Some of the wrap-around services such as treatment would hopefully be covered by Medicaid, she added.

Alamosa City Councilor Kristina Daniel said she has heard from community partners about how easy it is to work with the LEAD team. “You have a fantastic team to work with,” she said, “strong communication … how much I appreciate that. I have heard positive things from the community.”

Councilor Liz Hensley thanked everybody who made this program happen, and she was excited that Alamosa could be part of this new concept in Colorado. “It is really something awesome.” She said it takes a diverse group of people to make this work.

“Keep it up,” Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman said.