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City of Houston And Harris County Launch Diversion Program for Young Low-Level Offenders

The program aims to help youth who commit offenses at school and on school property

Stephen L. Williams, director of the City of Houston’s Health Department (center), attended a Sept. 25 event held at Attucks Middle School to launch the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) initiative.
Janis Bane, staff analyst with the Bureau of Youth and Adolescent Health (left); Stephen L. Williams, director of the City of Houston’s Health Department (center); and Joel Levine, executive director of Harris County’s Protective Services for Children and Adults (right), attended a Sept. 25 event held at Attucks Middle School to launch the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) initiative.

The City of Houston and Harris County have launched a pilot program to divert young low-level offenders from prison to treatment and wraparound services.

My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), an initiative of the City’s Health Department, and the office of Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis launched this week the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) initiative in an event held at Attucks Middle School, which is located in the Sunnyside area.

The program aims to help youth who commit offenses at school and on school property. Typically, those types of offenses lead to arrests, court expenses and short stays in supervised detention and confinement facilities.

Harris County accounted for roughly 25 percent of the youth sent to juvenile prison last year, according to state data.

Noel Pinnock, bureau chief of the Houston Health Department Bureau of Youth and Adolescent Health and director of MBK Houston, said this program aligns with the MBK’s mission “in that a huge part of our work is to ensure our city’s youth enter school ready to learn at all levels, graduate from high school and college or trade school and successfully enter the workforce thus dismantling the cradle-to-prison pipeline one life at a time.”

Diverting would-be arrestees

As opposed to pre-trial interventions, the LEAD program stops the legal process before it beings, diverting would-be arrestees before they are handcuffed and charges are filed with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

“When we provide mental and behavioral health services to youth at the point of entry of the juvenile justice system, we will more likely address the deeper root causes that promoted the behavior in the first place,” said Stephen Williams, director of the Houston Health Department.

The city and the county will leverage resources to provide the overall coordination of services.

Attucks Middle School was selected as the inaugural site to launch the pilot program based on data that show the school had experienced more than 40 student arrests in the past year, more than any other campus in the district.

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