A pre-arrest diversion pilot in the UK? Reflections on LEAD’s England roadshow

In March 2022, Revolving Doors hosted the LEAD Bureau for an England-wide roadshow to showcase their innovative pre-arrest diversion programme. LEAD is a project of the Public Defender Association, and the initiative is in place in over 70 jurisdictions across the USA, and is currently being implemented in South Africa.

Revolving Doors partnered with the LEAD Bureau back in September 2020 to complement our three-year New Generation Policing project, which supports law enforcement officials to develop new interventions to prevent young adults being caught in the cycle of crime and crisis.

Exploring diversion with law enforcement and support services in Blackpool and Merseyside

We started our roadshow in Blackpool, the second most deprived local authority in England, which displays a wide array of innovative practice when it comes to diversion and support for people in contact with the criminal justice system. Some notable examples are Project ADDER and Young ADDER at the Streetlife Trust, assisting young people at risk of homelessness, and Horizons drug and alcohol treatment centre.

The alignment of some of these services with the LEAD model in terms of harm reduction, long-term, non-judgemental case management and involving Law Enforcement, was unanimously felt.

Andy Walker, Programme Lead for Young ADDER, said:

The LEAD programme seems to mirror the ways we are trying to work here in Blackpool. The approach of a different intervention that is trauma informed working with the person, fast tracking pathways within a flexible methodology is producing results. Enforcement and informal education are part of our programme too, intelligence- led, to make the most effective impacts and achieve real change

We also met with service providers including Changing Futures, Change Grow Live and the Probation Service working around Lancashire to understand more about local needs and services.

Ian Treasure, Programme Manager for Changing Futures Lancashire, shared:

The LEAD approach follows similar thinking to Changing Futures, enabling disadvantaged people to find connection and a sense of purpose to a significant other (worker). Although the public service infrastructure is different in the US, the value of LEAD directors speaking to Local Leaders (e.g. The Mayor) to unblock barriers is a key piece of learning for us to reflect on.

While touring a custody suite in Liverpool and meeting with law enforcement officials across Merseyside and Greater Manchester, we spoke about the benefits of pre-arrest diversion – including on reducing pressure on police forces and recording crime outcomes.

We left with a sense that staff were extremely interested in the street-based/pre-arrest pieces of the LEAD model and were very impressed with the concepts of power sharing and collaboration of system partners.

Najja Morris-Frazier, Director of the LEAD Support Bureau

We then visited the DIVERT Lancashire programme at Blackpool FC Community Trust, which uses sport as a means to divert young adults away from crime at custody stage. What stood out was the ability to meet young people ‘where they are’, and the programme’s potential for growth – for instance around expanding to pre-arrest diversionary practices or widening eligibility criteria.

Reflecting on our visit to Blackpool and Merseyside, Brendan Cox, Director of Policing Strategies for the LEAD Support Bureau, said:

The right stakeholders are at the table and collaboration is happening. The work being done post arrest is in many ways more advanced than that which is done after someone is in custody in the States. Taking things to the next level and doing them pre-arrest should not be a big lift.

Sharing good practice on service delivery in Leicestershire  

We then headed to Leicestershire to visit Dear Albert, a drug and alcohol support service, and meet with staff from the Violence Intervention Project and Unlocking Potential, two interventions funded by the local Violence Reduction Network. We heard about their efforts involving local communities to support people move away from the criminal justice system. Jade, who accessed support through Leicestershire Cares, told us about the importance of working with someone who listens and shows they care. This person-centred and compassionate approach stood as a critical element to work alongside people with lived experience assessing and removing barriers they face. “I loved how they spoke about there not being an end date of services and staying with individuals for as long as they need them”, noted Najja.

We also had productive conversations with the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Leicestershire, Rupert Matthews, and his office’s staff on the benefits of pre-arrest diversion schemes, and hope to take these ideas further in Leicestershire.

Finally, we discussed progress on developing further diversion services in the West Midlands with Jack Tracey, Criminal Justice Policy Lead for West Midlands PCC. There appeared to be a clear interest in innovative ways of addressing crime and shifting away from punitive actions, while recognizing trauma as an underlying cause driving repeat contact with the criminal justice system.

The energy is there for diversion to social services with an emphasis on harm reduction. There seems to be a lot of opportunity for further collaborations with judicial system partners.

Logan Hunt, Practice Advisor at the LEAD Support Bureau

Advancing the potential of diversion schemes with senior officials in London

Following two days in Leicestershire, we attended a series of meetings with senior leaders across the policing system in London.

LEAD is an amazing project doing great stuff for people who want a second chance. I and the DIVERT team are here to help where we can.

Kate Ruby, Metropolitan Police’s DIVERT programme

At a panel event in Westminster, the LEAD Bureau spoke alongside Minister for Policing and Crime,  Kit Malthouse MP, as well as our New Generation Campaigners, Anthony & Charlie, and Jason Kew, former Chief Inspector with Thames Valley Reduction Unit. Anthony and Charlie outlined their experiences of the care system and the school to prison pipeline, reflecting on where diversion had helped them break out of the revolving door of crisis and crime. They stressed the need from peer-led training for police forces, as well as enhanced funding for youth services. This only confirmed the importance of moving away from punitive approaches to adequately support people experiencing multiple disadvantage – helping them regain control and fostering trusting, non-judgemental relationships.

It was great to explain [the Minister] how the Lead initiative was designed to reduce the number of people entering the jail system and to also eliminate racial disparities that could impact communities.” 

Dana Owens, Practice Advisor for the LEAD Support Bureau

Revolving Doors also convened a roundtable with LEAD and organisations with specific focus on diversion, where we explored how the voluntary sector is driving diversion initiatives in the UK.

LEAD and Revolving Doors particularly welcomed our conversation with Leroy Logan MBE, centring the lived experience of young people. We also met with Deputy Mayor for Crime and Policing, Sophie Linden, and look forward to updating her on details of our proposed pilot for the LEAD model in the UK.

In their discussions with Law Enforcement and community organisations in London, LEAD discussed a shared commitment to trauma-informed policing and early intervention, as well as diversion to community-based collaborations. “With this universal understanding and mindset amongst community stakeholders, it seems the momentum is there to pilot a pre-arrest diversion program in London”, Logan Hunts points out.

What’s next for LEAD and Revolving Doors?

Now that LEAD have showcased the benefits of pre-arrest diversion for both communities and law enforcement with a wide variety of criminal justice stakeholders, our ambition is to eventually launch a pilot site of LEAD’s approach in its purest form in a locality within England. We hope to see intensive, non-coercive support prevent people from needing to end up in police custody to access support. This also means police officers can shift attention on serious crime, and away from repeat, low-level offences driven by underlying, unmet health and social needs. 

Across England, LEAD noticed a clear appetite to apply the core principles of their approach with young adults. Focusing on the 18–25-year-old population while retaining the same key elements of long-term, non-coercive, pre-arrest, trauma-informed and street-based case management, could offer a great opportunity to demonstrate how the LEAD model can work to better engage young adults through ‘Community Leadership Teams’. Regrettably, older groups of people often appeared overlooked when, in fact, offering them long-term harm reduction services could result in improved life outcomes as well as reduced caseload pressure for officers.

Ultimately, our vision is that one day, police officers across the country will be able to use their discretion to divert people away from the criminal justice system at the point of contact; before any arrest, charge, and prosecution occurs. It is our belief that in tackling the drivers of crime in a supportive and non-coercive way, we can beat the cycle of crisis and crime.

In between our travels, many questions, ideas, and the brainstorming of possible challenges were strategically discussed and debated. I know the LEAD initiative will fit uniquely within the UK criminal justice system. 

Dana Owens,  Practice Advisor for the LEAD Support Bureau