by Christopher R. Poulos, President, ACS University of Maine School of Law Student Chapter; Chair, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program Subcommittee, City of Portland, Maine.
The United States now has more incarcerated citizens both in raw numbers and per capita than any other nation on Earth. Over two million people are currently incarcerated in the United States, up from around 200,000 as recently as 1975. The vast majority of prisoners are economically disadvantaged and lack college degrees, and many did not graduate from high school. The number of minorities incarcerated, particularly black males, is disproportionately larger than their percentage of the general population. Liberals – and now conservatives, including the Koch brothers and Newt Gingrich – are finally calling attention to the long ignored issue of mass incarceration. The current focus on this matter by both ends of the political spectrum makes this a ripe time for positive change.
One way to immediately begin addressing the daunting issue of criminal justice reform generally – and mass incarceration specifically – is to divert eligible low-level offenders away from the criminal justice process entirely. The program is called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), and one of its many objectives is to transform and transcend the relationship between police and the residents they serve into something more positive and less adversarial. The idea began in Seattle and has also taken root in Santa Fe.