A plan to divert more nonviolent offenders who are homeless into social service programs rather than jail time is close to being completed, according to the Honolulu Police Department.

Although a slimmed-down version of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program was launched earlier this year, part of the program was put on hold until the police and the prosecuting attorney’s office decided which crimes were low-level enough to make someone eligible for diversion.

HPD Capt. Mike Lambert said the department is close to an agreement with the prosecutor’s office about those crimes. HPD is recommending that the program include people who are arrested on crimes that do not involve individual victims, such as criminal trespassing or violations of the city’s sit-lie ordinance.

David Shaku, LEAD Case Manager at the Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center.
LEAD Case Manager David Shaku, right, helps homeless people who’ve been referred by the police through the program. HPD wants to include those who’ve committed low-level crimes with no individual victims. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Other violations that could make someone eligible for the program would be citations for park camping, marijuana possession, littering or having an open alcohol container.

“As far as what the final agreement will look like, it all comes down to the chief and (Honolulu prosecutor) Keith Kaneshiro,” Lambert said.

Brooks Baehr, a spokesman for the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s office, said talks are continuing but there is no final agreement. “We are continuing discussions with HPD to work out details,” he said.

Here is a list of suggested crimes HPD would include to qualify nonviolent offenders who are homeless for social services instead of jail time. HPD

Honolulu is among 11 cities that launched a LEAD program this year. The program is used by about 20 law enforcement agencies nationwide to break the cycle of incarceration for homeless individuals who commit low-level crimes like trespassing or public intoxication. Maui and Hawaii counties are developing plans to bring the program to their respective islands.

According to Lambert, a study in Seattle showed that 58 percent of people who participated in a LEAD program there were less likely to be arrested.

So far, 34 individuals in Honolulu who have had past warrants for low-level offenses are now working daily with social workers. Four have completed substance abuse treatment and 10 are now in shelters or permanent housing. 

The $200,000 program was funded through the state Department of Health, which has helped continue the program even though the diversion piece involving new offenders has been in limbo, according to Heather Lusk, executive director of the Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center.

The center has contracted with the state to coordinate the social service partners now working with homeless offenders.

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