On Sunday, June 26, we hosted a community call  to discuss concerns and questions about Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs. This conversation has been spurred by the advent of SB110 in California, which has resulted in a community petition to remove the sex worker clause from the bill. LEAD is currently implemented in Seattle, and is being proliferated around the country, including in your area.


Call Notes:  are below, and can also be found here.

Call Recording: click here.

FAQ About LEAD and Sex Work: Kris Nyrop, the LEAD liason of the Public Defender Association, has also prepared an FAQ About LEAD tailored to the sex worker community. To view the FAQ, click here.

LEAD National Bureau Website: click here.

California SB110: click here

California SB110 – Petition to Remove Sex Work Section: click here.




Magalie Lerman

[OSF & SWOP-USA]: Before LEAD, the only options sex workers had were post arrest programs, that had lengthy requirements (including abstinence from drugs and sex work), and anyone unable or unwilling to meet this version of “success” gets the arrest charge, and sometimes even the jail time. We need more alternatives to incarceration for people in the sex trade. LEAD was formed to be one step forward towards this goal. There are many misconceptions of LEAD, which includes the conflation with prostitution court. We have invited Kris and Melody to discuss aspects of LEAD with us today.


Rachel West [US PROStitutes Collective]: We work with Black Coalition Fight Back Serial Murders. We’ve been organizing against a bill in CA SB110, raising serious concerns we have with this bill, starting with the sex workers community and being joined by other communities. People have jumped on board. We’re working with formerly incarcerated people very closely, of which many sex workers are. This is a multi-racial compagine. We’re going to Sacramento next week for a public hearing. Our big issues with LEAD are first and foremost that it’s law enforcement led, putting services into the hands of the police. We know how violence and racist the police are, and we know who gets the brunt of the harm from them. Black, trans, people of color are clearly the people being targeted by LE. You’ve all heard about the Oakland police dept violating a young sex worker. Why can’t there be services for sex workers without involving the police? It’s dangerous to involve the police. We’re concerned about how SB110 lumps drug use and sex work together. We don’t agree with the fact sheet recently release that street work isn’t work. We’re concerned about how all of this money is going to co-opt parts of our movement, and recruit them to be part of the criminal justice system. LEAD IS part of the criminal justice system. We’re concerned about how this may benefit non-profits that are not pro-decrim, anti-trafficking orgs will get the LEAD money and not pro-sex worker orgs. In this way, the power of LE is increased, services do not serve sex workers. We don’t see LEAD as being on the road to decriminalization. We agree with Cris from Desiree that this is a “soft sell” on decriminalization. We feel this will be a means of “cleaning up the streets”, targeting the most vulnerable of us and forcing us into LEAD via threat of arrest.


Kris Nyrop [Public Defender Association/LEAD Nat’l Bureau] – Those were wonderful comments, I’m not sure I’ll be able to address all of them in four minutes. Let me go through the notes I’ve made here.

  • Why can’t there be services without police? We would fully embrace this model. The point of LEAD is not to prove that social services work, but to advocate for the expansion of social services work, and that diversion as opposed to going through the justice system would be beneficial.
  • Sex work and drug use – LEAD in Seattle was created to address racial bias in arrest, people being targeted for sales and possession of drugs. We hopes to include other minor arrestable offences, but the only ones LE would budge on where prostitution. We wanted to see Seattle police refer the same individuals into LEAD that they had been arrested and prosecuting and sometimes sentenced to lengthy jail terms. If the populations in LEAD had differed than the population sent to criminal justice, we would have pulled the plug immediately. LEAD is part of the criminal justice system, true. We’re trying to make a shift in this system, where police themselves will realize that arresting people for low level offences is stupid, and see that the criminal justice tool is highly ineffective.


Carol Leigh [BAYSWAN] – There are so many topics here. I was disturbed by SWOP’s statement, which escalated the confusion. Even a good program is bad. To tell you a quick story, in SF in the 90’s we were threatened with prostitution court, and a program was designed, much like LEAD…human and civil rights groups, some sex workers. Everyone in it agreed that they could not do this as a group, it was in conflict of a civil rights approach, but they were so desperate to do something, that this was all they could do. The prostitution court failed. I’m trying to point out that there’s a huge history of sex workers and these diversion programs. I respect the idea that SW orgs feel this is a new field of harm reduction, but I feel there need to be new approaches and strategies to address this. A lot more work needs to be done. The way it was originally communicated with SWOP, we need more….even a good program is a bad program. I think the people who have been involved for the way they’re put this forward. There’s a delicate balance here, that empowers the system. Sex worker groups have a long history with this, it needs a lot more work. In Consultation with people who have critiqued the PIC, we see many people probably appreciate this program because it gets them a better deal than usual. I feel this is a really serious turning point, discussion with PIC reform groups is critical. This document is not really about prostitution, it’s mostly about drugs. Makes me think this is not very well thought out, especially about how sex work is involved in this. I encourage local groups and SWOP national to spear heard collective history.


Melody Lee [Melody Lee, Katal & Nat’l LEAD Bureau]- Thank you for your comment, I concur and agree. It is important to remember that balance….to bring groups involved in the process in to talk about these issues. My org (KATAL) agrees with that, works on prison reform, so much of this is dialog in process. That’s why a call like this is so important.


Kris – I echo Melody. Circling back to something Rachel said. The possibility that a program like LEAD could possibly strengthen anti sex work and anti drug use sentiment. This is absolutely a possibility that is of concern for us. We’re very open to hearing concern from our allies on this.


Eileen Corcoran [Former case manager, LEAD Seattle] – I’m listening right now, because if you’d told me we’d be having these conversations a year ago, I’d be stretching my head. This opens the door for this conversation to continue. My perspective, coming from the street population, where my addiction was fueled by street based sex work, I know at the end of the day, the referrals to LEAD for prostitution are very low…I didn’t feel as a social service provider that we were targeting these women. These women were coming and asking for help. How do we continue to develop these programs, and have sex worker voices at the table. There were a few at one time, with very different strategies. Takes me back to when there were no services at all for sex workers, drop in shelters were very bare bone. We have so much further to go.


Katherine Koster [SWOP-USA]- Feeling really conflicted about LEAD because all of the point people have made are good, but in places like FL and Pittsburgh, there are places where sws and drug users are getting arrested and regularly sentenced to jail, and felony prostitution is a very real thing. Several hundred things getting felony charged preventing them from so much. On the other hand, lots of people here are from pretty liberal places where real decrim is possible. That’s something to consider when we’re talking about this on a national basis. Second question: I know that information given to case managers is regularly shared with police and prosecutors….they say it’s not used to arrest as client, but what happens when there are many drug users or sex worker who are giving info about the broader aspect of the trade or community, have you ever seen this used to gather info on and go for bigger networks?


Kris – great points, I’ve been thinking the same thing about your first point…where is LEAD most applicable? In Seattle, it was made to address the huge gaping wound that was the racial disparity, which needed to be fixed. Maybe in a place where decrim can be achieved, LEAD might not be as useful there. The work we’re doing now is in some pretty damn conservative places. Places where people are still being arrested for marijuana, while as that’s unfathomable on the west coast. Let’s consider the local political landscape. Another thing, no information that case managers have given police locally, to our knowledge, has ever been used. When we first started doing LEAD, there were people who turned down a referral to LEAD…their reasons being they thought LEAD was a snitch program (would have to give up names, or they’d be labeled as a snitch). Second reason was they thought it was drug court, which they wanted nothing to do with it. Once word got out on the street, we haven’t had anyone say no in the past couple of years. We emphasize, that you cannot use people in LEAD as informants. The program would be dead in the water if that happened.


Savannah Sly [SWOP-USA & SWOP-Seattle] – Also feeling conflicted personally. Asked about the oversight process for LEAD programs that are being implemented nationally.  How can we ensure that police will not abuse trust and this won’t turn into another harmful diversion program?  


Kris – oversight of other jurisdictions is a HUGE concern. Fidelity to the model is something that comes up frequently for us. Melody can speak to this most….the two cities we see in the US doing LEAD like Seattle are Albany and Santa Fe. we did a lot of hand holding. There are other places that are starting to say they’re doing LEAD, but we’ve had no interaction. Such as Huntington…they have two different programs…they have one which is similar to LEAD, which they use for drug user, then they have POST-booking court based program used for sex workers, BUT, the same program name has been used in media, creating confusion and alarm. When we saw the original language for SB110, we were appalled, and immediately contacted people in CA, saying we will publically opposed you if you go forward with that language. Last I saw, they had included language about harm reduction and a need to replicate the Seattle model. If we don’t see that, that’s a problem.


Carol Leigh – So many people are doing great work, I’ve been watching over the years as the harm reduction movement has influenced the criminal justice system. That said, I was to question the idea that this is necessarily locally based, in terms of how the SW right movement or SWOP deals with this. There is a SWR perspective, nationally. There’s an issue between supporting or not supporting LEAD. We need to look at all of the different options for sex workers, so that there are NOT just two options. We need to be much more informed. I want to make sure that I was clear…even the very very best program that is based on a police encounter, is going to encourage arrest some way somewhere, and is potentially extremely dangerous. Maybe the SW groups would be officially supporting, but people who are allies and sex worker criminal experts, maybe they individually participate and maintain information. I’m concerned about the dangers, I think there’s other options. I’m hearing the good things, but I don’t think that’s the point. The other points are so important to the sex worker movement.


Kris – One of the things I was thinking while Carol was talking, is that it would be nice to have a lot of voices from multiple perspectives…I’m thinking back to Gay Mens’ Health Crisis. “You can either negotiate with us, or Larry Kramer can come pee on your desk”. Maybe you can negotiate with us as LEAD, or face radical action from others. Just a thought. Melody, do you want to talk about Albany and oversight there?


Melody – can’t hear her…maybe she dropped off


Katherine – My concern about not getting involved in LEAD on a local level is that anti-trafficking anti-sex worker orgs WILL. Which will then lead to police viewing people in the sex trade as victims or villains, seeing all third parties as violent, and supporting the nordic model. Whenever there is opportunity for sex workers to get involved, it could be an opportunity to influence the broader perspective. I feel like there is a dichotomy between supporting lead and supporting decri, it’s a false dichotomy. My personal perspective is to push for the best you can get, then keep on pushing. In places where there are felony charges pushing for LEAD for now, and when that culture changes, push for something else. I feel it can be a fluid position. These are interim steps to decrim.


Kris – I could not agree more. One of the things we’ve been saying repeatedly is, “if we’re talking about LEAD 15 years from now, that is not a success, that’s a failure”.


Melody – I agree with that, I see LEAD as a vehicle, not a destination.


Starchild [SWOP-San Francisco[ – I’m not as well  versed in this issue some of you, I’m an activist across several issues, am a sex worker, libertarian….listening here I share the concerns some people here have been voicing. Specific questions: Have you built into the programs that you helped start, and kind of a sense of cause? You can always restart it from your terms and start from scratch if you need to…that these programs might not last for more than a few years. A few other things: I’m concerned these kinds of programs could have people working in them that will continue stereotypes (needing exit, exploiters) which is problematic. What have you done if anything to screen the people involved in this work? Also, have you had conversations about these programs with anti-sex work groups, what do they say and what do you say in response? Knowing that would help our community with trust. It sounds like you support decrim, but we need it explicitly.


Kris – ensuring case managment delivery side of things is true to our ideals. In Seattle and Santa fe, we put in a request proposal for the service delivery side for LEAD. I wrote that request….”What is your agencies understanding of harm reduction, and how do you practice it?” This was not a standard grant application, but results based. This is not normal case management, this is completely going to be non-abstinence, non-sanction based. There is nothing to comply to. Addressing those issues structurally. That’s why we tried to get that language into SB110, so no groups that are recovery based are infused in the service…that would be a nightmare. We have not talked about a sunset clause, but that’s an interesting thing…I’m going to think about it. What’s made us hopeful is watching the culture of police and prosecutors change…it’s likely we’re going to open more than one safe room in Seattle this year…how can you get LEAD to result in changes where you don’t need it anymore? In terms of open statements for decrim….LEAD is not an entity, it’s a thing. There’s no way we can get LEAD to support decrim, but the partners that are involved in it, we’re open that that’s our goal. We can take back to the LEAD national support Bureau, if this is something we can support and say? We’ll take that back.


Starchild – What kinds of conversations are you having with police and trafficking groups?


Kris – we’ve been lucky, we’ve had no conversations with anti-trafficking groups aside from pushback to their messaging. We had no local groups who wanted to insert themselves into LEAD, they didn’t push back. We definitely have an anxiety filled relationship thi some of our local prosecutors who are all about the Nordic model….we haven’t had to deal with them, because their focus is entirely on internet based escort and massage services. They’re basically uninterested in street based work. If they decide they were going to aggressively arrest street workers, we’d have a large confrontation with them.


Savannah – Can you tell us about the LEAD funding, where it comes from, and who gets it?


Kris – Seattle was the first LEAD program, our money was entirely private foundation dollars for the first few years. In 2014, we started transitioning to public funding, in 2017 we’ll be entirely publically funded through city and public dollars. Perversive incentives for police…they have gotten ZERO additional dollars, same with prosecutors office. All of the money for LEAD has gone into case manager salaries and service provision. Our contract with service providers that at least %50 of their money go to services. We’ve changed that slightly as we’ve seen where money needs are. Services agencies are going to get rich on this. NO ADDITIONAL MONEY FOR POLICE OR PROSECUTORS. Do you regular policing, but instead of arresting people, divert them.


Rachel – I don’t agree with kris that all of these LEAD programs will make police not arrest people and prosecutors not prosecute. We’re all focusing on this LEAD program, but the way they got decrim in New Zealand is through organized effort…we need that. Amnesty is a huge victory. The way we’ll get police to stop harassing sex workers is via decrim, let’s start organizing around that. Let’s get together as a national group, really planning how we’re going to do it. They’ve done it in NZ, let’s do it here. We don’t trust the police, they’re not social workers. The only way we’ll get a change is to build the effort for decrim. The fact that if you don’t sign up for this assessment, then charges are held against you…in this assessment interview, what kinds of question are asked? Immigration status? Kids? Personal info? Where does that go? Into a database? Are SWs put on a registry? It’s very concerned.


Kris – In terms of the assessment, LEAD is designed specifically for folks who are coming in primarily around drug involvement, the assessment that is used is the addiction severity index…housing status, employment, as for kids it’s something the case manager might ask. The assessment is really to help the case manager and the person in the program figure out mutually what that person’s goals and desires are. What do they want out of the program, and in what order? Those case managers notes are non-disclosable, they’re protected by privacy law. The fact that someone is or is not in LEAD might be disclosable and might now be, depends on the justification. In WA, arrest records are non-disclosable. It would not become public info.


Danny – Could you walk us through more about what a social contract referral looks like? In SB110, it looks like being based on a prior history of arrest, a community member recording someone for drug use or prostitution. Second question I had: The amended version of SB110 has a separate clause in it specifically to deal with LEAD for prostitution. Is this prostitution clause in other LEAD programs?


Kris – Social contact, this really came about 3-4 into doing LEAD…it came out of two experince: Officer feedback “we’re out there everyday, we know these folks. Why in the world do we need to wait until we have an arrest to refer a person into a program?” second thing, “bike officers were out one day, a woman asked them if this was a day they were doing LEAD referrals, she came back with a couple of rocks in her hand. Can you please arrest me so I can get into LEAD?”. That made no sense at all, we need another route. Originally it was just police who would do it, over time we’ve expanded the route in. We were approached by judges, drug court “we have a person here who is going to fail drug court. Would you take them into LEAD?” we’ve done that. WE’ve have public defenders with clients on drug charges where they have worked with prosecutors to get the person referred into LEAD that way. There are community ways in…residents or business owners can highlites that there’s drug activity on their corner, asking they be considered for social contact.


Jasmine – POint of clarification I’d like to know: can people only access these services is referred to LEAD? Is there anything to protect people from police conduct or extortion? Does LEAD have any copyright to protect it’s integrity from poor execution in other places?


Kris – LEAD trademark, it just came through in the past few weeks. This will hopefully give us leverage. Complaint procedure…we have these in place regarding the service delivery aspect of LEAD, if a service is not appropriate or unfair. We don’t have a complaint procedure other than the normally existing and completely inadequate complaint procedures about police that already exist. I don’t know how we’d get over this…the police won’t give that up without a fight. Can you clarify your first question?


Jasmine – Are the services that people get through LEAD LEAD-specific service, or are they established service orgs with expanded services?


Kris – This will differ from place to place. In Seattle, we are resource rich. We were able to detail what was expected of the entity that handled case management. Thing we also know if there is no one entity out there that will be able to provide the range of services we anticipated people might need or want. We’re not looking for one org that does it all, we’re looking for an org that is capable of hooking people up with those services. In Santa Fe, they kinda had to create the infrastructure from scratch. I suspect that’ll be true in numerous jurisdictions.


Starchild – I like Rachel West’s comment, they were spot on. Kris and Melody, it sounds like you do support decrim, that does make you part of the movement. We’d like to hear you speak from that perspective. If we see the people who are running these programs are part of the movement, we will have more trust. ESPU, SWOP, USPROS, we’re not involved in the day to day LEAD operations….if we know movement concerns are represented there, that’d be helpful. We’d like to see you explicitly be a part of this. It sounds like you have had conversations with police and prosecutors….have they said “how successful is this at moving people away from prostitution and drug use?”. Now that it’s publically financed, as a libertarian, that’s working from a violence based model. Participating that violent system, getting addicted to that funding, this goes back to perverse incentives. We don’t want someone sucked into that. Being part of this movement, being harm reductionists, it’s extremely important.


Kris – Thank you for all of that. Thank you for saying are part of the movement…it’s nice to hear.


Starchild – To clarify, I’m asking if you are part of the movement. Are you able and willing to bring that movement consciousness into the day to day operations of your work. Getting your board on board with explicitly standing for decrim would be part of that.


Kris – Because this has been so much more around drugs until the item of sex work has come to the surface, I’m more comfortable speaking about that (drugs). Maybe we can roll that over into talking about sex work. Pretty much all of involve with promoting LEAD have been long term members of DPA and other drug reform orgs, we’re very open about that. I can’t see problems with transferring those same sentiments and strategies over. As far as working with police and prosecutors…it’s on such a small scale, but LEAD does fundamentally change the way police and prosecutors think. We’ve developing a cadre of LE who are saying things that would have been unfathomable a couple of years ago, and they’re saying it in public. In terms of the long game, that’s so useful. Police and prosecutors only listen to each other, not outsiders. If you want to change the culture, you need to change cops. I heard a member of the public say, “If someone was in LEAD but continues to smoke crack, but did it inside, is that a success…” and the cop says “yes, from a public safety standpoint.”. Thats new, that’s a success. People are saying the war on drugs is a disaster, if we can get them to say the same about the war on sex work, that’s a success. As far as funding, LEAD is pretty damned expensive. I don’t know how to get over that. Some places can do medicaid, but that’s still taxpayer dollars.


Melody – I echo a lot of what Kris has shared. In terms of the piece around transforming police culture, it is incremental. To see the police chief of albany get to a place where he’s having the entire dept go through a harm reduction training is just one of those example. We’ve had a lot of community partners at the table building that process. We’re building, moving forward. Even two years ago, those folks would never have imagined everyone sitting in the same room.


Rachel – Seattle is a strong movement city, challenging police and prosecutors. $65 million it’s going to coast LEAD in Ca, that’s a lot of money. Is this going to existing services, Jasmin mentioned? Some of the money is going to a program sexually exploited minor program, it’s part of the anti-trafficking effort. It’s the flavor of the month, they use child prostitution, to go after stings against adult sex workers. This is clearly part of the anti-trafficking lobby. It’s a real concern. How will this increased criminalization? It doesn’t end it. People are still being picked up by the police. It’s very problematic.


Katherine – Kris I appreciate your openness to building parallel advocacy relationships re. sex work to the ones LEAD already has with drug policy organizations. after the parallel between sex work and drug use…it needs to be done intentionally…there are folks who are pro drug reform who are pro nordic model. I would be interested, and I know this would be a follow up call, as to how to intentionally do that, and a potential partnership for doing that.


Kris – I hear you, I welcome that. We have spoken out here locally against the Nordic model. In terms of LEAD work, they haven’t brought it to us. We’re concerned about it. We’d be frightened if LEAD was put in partnership.


Magalie – I think that one thing I’ve seen that has come up in this call is that we as a movement need to have continued conversations about approaches to decrim. A mentor of mine recently said “in drug policy (and other) movement, there is division between incremental step and hold out end goal approaches, fearing incremental steps contribute to violence. This is a difference, but there’s a need for the movement to come together to talk about. We need to put this in the US context….NZ and Portugal are small and homogenous places. The US is not…as Katherine was saying, something could be very different between SF and Miami, difference demographics, politics, etc. This is a really good time for us to start this conversation. These programs are happening, there’s possibly a way to get training into these programs, so that other organizations don’t. I hope we can have these continued conversations moving forward.



Community Concerns and Questions

  • No SW community input on these programs
  • “Handcuffs are not outreach”, why are police first responders and not outreach workers?
  • Increased police power over SWs, police as gateway to services
  • More reason for police to harass SWs
  • Police violence [Are there explicit misconduct policies? Screening questions for this in intake interviews?]
  • More money for police…where does LEAD get it’s funding?
  • Anti-trafficking orgs as case managers instead of harm reduction orgs
  • Info from case manager work shared with prosecutors & police [Even if this doesn’t impact participants, is this information used to arrest dealers/third parties/others?]
  • Ensuring fidelity – how do we know implementation elsewhere won’t just be another diversion program?
  • What do police social contact referrals look like? What are the protocols? [Is there coercion or implicit threat of arrest in these?]
  • Transparency [LEAD Ntl Bureau website + transparent misconduct policies]
  • LEAD funding will be used for prostitution stings. Will funding for LEAD expand the capacity of law enforcement to police drug use & prostitution? If not, what checks are in place to prevent this?
  • Categorical ineligibility for promoting prostitution in Stl, Santa Fe LEAD — [Q – Is this people with any arrest/conviction history of this, or just immediate charges?] Can Nat’L LEAD bureau do what they do for drug dealing charges on this? People who have mix of prostitution & promoting prostitution charges [at least] should be eligible for LEAD, for the same reasons subsistence drug dealer/users are.
  • In large cities, how much of an effect will LEAD have on reducing arrests & changing police culture?
  • Social workers viewing arrest as a positive intervention to enforce client compliance (source – Stl LEAD evaluation, p. 42)
  • This is about a California pilot program in 3 California cities, yet we are consulting a Seattle group. Do we have a public defender in California that we could engage?

How did SWOP USA come to be involved directly with LEAD? Whose idea was this? Please fill in the blanks in terms of open society, LEAD and SWOP USA.