Tag: Public Defender Association

Justice Reform Advocate Behind Successful Diversion Program Wins MacArthur “Genius” Grant

This post originally appeared on Seattle magazine’s website.

Image Credit: Hayley Young, Seattle magazine

Lisa Daugaard, the Seattle criminal justice reform advocate and director of the Public Defender Association (PDA), used to joke with her staff that she would never get a MacArthur grant—the no-strings-attached financial stipend commonly known as the “genius grant.” “It has been kind of an internal joke among my colleagues and family that this would never happen to me, because I had a particularly challenging dynamic with MacArthur over how the work in the [criminal justice] field should progress,” Daugaard says.

So when she got a call from the MacArthur Foundation—several calls, actually, plus a number of increasingly urgent texts—she thought, “I’ll get to this when I get to it.”

Daugaard was preoccupied with a more pressing problem—the latest city budget left the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program underfunded, and the PDA would have to stop taking on new clients starting in early 2020. The city has expanded the program geographically since it first started as a Belltown pilot program in 2005, but resources have not kept up with the expanding need, and the small staff is now “pinned at their desks” by staggering caseloads, Daugaard says. “We’ve been struggling with fairly profound questions about whether LEAD is going to make it in Seattle. … The model will collapse without some recognition that as we build enthusiasm for and willingness to use this model, by definition, we have to grow in capacity.”

So when her phone started ringing, Daugaard says, “I was very preoccupied and grumpy. That morning, I was walking around thinking, ‘I’m kind of done. I don’t think I can fix this.’”

When she finally returned the call, “and then I realized that the only thing they needed to ask me about was whether I would accept this award, it was just one of those moments in one’s life where the thing that you had absolutely, conclusively ruled out as ever possibly happening does happen, and it reminds you that you should probably stop assuming that you know what is possible,” Daugaard says.

LEAD, a joint effort between the PDA, police, and other community stakeholders, is a pre-arrest diversion program that offers alternatives to the criminal justice system for low-level offenders with mental illness and substance use disorders. The program has been shown to be more effective than other approaches at reducing recidivism, reducing arrests by 60 percent compared to other approaches. Versions of LEAD now exist across the country—a testament, supporters say, to the effectiveness of the program.

MacArthur’s process for choosing grant recipients is notoriously secretive. It involves following potential recipients’ work for multiple years and interviewing other people in their orbit to gauge the impact of their work. “The idea that folks who have tried to steer the criminal justice field are feeling confident about this direction was kind of news to me, and very welcome information,” Daugaard says.

She hopes Mayor Jenny Durkan and other city leaders are paying attention. “The people who confer about what direction our field needs to take have decided that this is a very promising direction and that this is not a risk. I hope that that is the takeaway,” she says.

As for what she plans to do with that $625,000 of grant money from the foundation? Daugaard says she’ll figure that out soon—right after she finishes up a couple of big projects, including training 15 organizations from across the U.S. on the LEAD model. “I think in 2020 I will be able to start stepping away and doing some writing” about the theory and practice of LEAD and why it works. She knows the program will go on whether she’s actively engaged on a day-to-day basis or not. “I’m proud and pleased that [LEAD] is not dependent on any one person or any one personality and style,” she says. “I’m really confident that that the same insights will be generated, and the same problem-solving will happen, whether I’m there or not.”

Morning Crank: An Insurmountable Impact to Quality of Life

1. The King County Regional Policy Committee, which includes members of the Seattle City Council and King County Council as well as several suburban mayors, voted yesterday to move a proposal to renew and expand the King County Veterans and Human Services levy (now known as the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy) one step closer to the November ballot. The committee debated, but didn’t take a position on, the size of the levy, which under a proposal by King County Executive Dow Constantine would increase from five to 12 cents per $1,000 of property valuation. Kent Mayor Suzette Cook, a member of the Sound Cities Association of suburban cities, proposed reducing the renewal measure from 12 cents to 10, while advocates for seniors and people with criminal convictions in the audience advocated an increase to 15, which would represent a tripling of the levy.

The testimony, which stretched more than an hour, whipsawed between senior citizens praising Constantine for including seniors in his proposal, and advocates for active drug users and people with criminal convictions asking the committee to add programs that provide housing for those hard-to-house groups to the levy. Not This Time founder Andre Taylor’s testimony about being unable to rent an apartment in Seattle because of a conviction 20 years ago was followed moments later by an advocate for senior citizens who are losing their sight. Although both groups wore green scarves to symbolize their support for increasing the levy, those who supported housing for people with criminal convictions and active drug users hung an additional symbol—an orange strip of fabric—around their necks; none of the people wearing green scarves spoke in favor of the proposal, possibly because housing senior citizens is much less contentious than housing active drug users and people with criminal convictions.

“Everybody lives somewhere,” Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard said. “If it is on the street and in public, in our cities and in unincorporated King County, that is an insurmountable impact to quality of life,” both for people who can’t find housing and people who encounter them on the street. Most housing for people with substance use disorders require total abstinence from drugs and alcohol, which gets the equation exactly backward; for people living on the street, getting clean and sober can be an insurmountable challenge, but harm-reduction studies have shown consistently that people’s quality of life improves once they have housing, even if they keep using drugs or alcohol.

The levy proposal now heads to the county council, which will send a final version back to the committee by July.

2. In response to news that billionaire investor and Celtics minority owner David Bonderman, a key player in the Oak View Group of investors that Mayor Ed Murray recently selected to rebuild Key Arena, had resigned from the board of Uber after making sexist comments, Murray said yesterday, “businesses that wish to partner with the City of Seattle must share our values of equity and inclusion. Because of the negative impact of attitudes and comments like these, we will engage with Oak View Group during our negotiation to ensure our partnership is built on and reflective of Seattle’s values.” Asked what form that “engagement” will take, mayoral spokesman Benton Strong said that was “being discussed.”

3. Former 46th District state Rep. Jessyn Farrell won the straw poll and went home with a slightly crumpled straw cowboy hat at conclusion of the the 34th District Democrats’ mayoral forum in West Seattle last night, after two rounds of questions that initially winnowed ten candidates (including unfamiliar faces like SPD officer James Norton and business consultant Tinell Cato) down to three familiar ones (former US Attorney Jenny Durkan, vFarrell, and current 11th District state Sen. Bob Hasegawa), then two (Farrell and Hasegawa) then one.

A few things I heard last night, in no particular order:

Michael Harris, TV producer and tailored-suit aficionado, on what he’d bring to the table as mayor: “The ethic that I’ve learned as an ABC producer is that I get I there and immerse.”

Mike McGinn, former mayor: “We tax regressively. We need to spend progressively. I would hold the line on sales taxes and property taxes.”

Jenny Durkan, on the need to keep Seattle’s neighborhoods unique in the future: “If you held a gun to some people’s heads and said, ‘You have to move from West Seattle to Capitol Hill,’ they would say, ‘No way.'”

Jessyn Farrell, on her solution for “food deserts” like Delridge, where grocery stores are few and far between: “There’s a real role for government to step in. By using incentives and disincentives we can foster more small businesses and [reduce] barriers. We could be asking grocery stores to do more when we’re granting permits.”

Hasegawa, same question: “I’m all for supporting mom and pop grocery stores to start up in the neighborhoods, but the easier way is to really build out our transit system so people can get where they want to go easily.”

Hasegawa, on how he would pay for that: “A municipal bank.”

Hasegawa, asked whether he would prefer to have lots of homeless children or lots of homeless single men. “I’m a politician, I guess we’ll work through [the question.]” (Proceeds to talk out the clock.)

Jenny Durkan, on whether it’s appropriate for schools to employ uniformed SPD officers  as “community resource officers”: “One of things we found out from SPD’s own data  is that 75 percent of the time, when an officer used force, it was either someone in a mental health crisis or under the influence of drugs and alcohol.” (Proceeds to talk out the clock.)

McGinn, on whether he supports or opposes the soda tax that just passed (everyone else held up their “no” signs): ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Everybody, on whether the city should annex North Highline, an unincorporated area near White Center: “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

The 34th District Democrats did not make a formal endorsement last night.

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Morning Crank: Planning Is Necessary. Stalling Is Not.

L-R: Commissioners Vickie Rawlins, Brendan Donckers, Eileen Norton, Bruce Carter, Charlene Angeles

1. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission dealt another blow to defenders of Mayor Ed Murray yesterday afternoon, agreeing unanimously that the mayor’s supporters couldn’t create a legal defense fund and solicit unlimited anonymous contributions on his behalf.  Moreover, the board ruled that the supporters’ backup plan—limiting the amount of contributions and disclosing the names of donors—was equally unacceptable, on the grounds that the city’s ethics rules contain no provision allowing legal defense funds for elected officials.

“Given our current ethics code, or what we care about in the city about transparency and accountability, I don’t see a path for you,”  commission chair Eileen Norton addd.

Murray’s supporters proposed creating the fund to help the mayor defray the cost of defending himself against charges that he sexually assaulted a young man in the 1980s, and some speculated that one reason the mayor announced he would not run for reelection was to eliminate one objection to the fund—that it would violate campaign-finance rules.

 

“There is concern about whether the mayor has the resources” to defend himself, Flevaris said, “and the folks putting the fund together want to address that issue and make sure that the lawsuit can’t be used as a political tool” against him. “When you have a scandalous lawsuit like this, we think [that] informs this issue.”

“I don’t think the emotional issue around the lawsuit should inform our decision,” Norton responded.

Flevaris and Lawrence argued that by keeping the names of contributors to the fund anonymous and requiring donors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the fund would avoid any appearance of political impropriety. However, commission director Wayne Barnett countered that if, for example, “someone involved with the development of an arena in SoDo makes a substantial gift to the legal defense fund, I don’t see how an unenforceable nondisclosure agreement is going to persuade a reasonable person that it was not given with an intent to influence” city policy.

Moreover, Barnett said, if the commission granted the defense fund the right to solicit anonymous, unlimited contributions, the commission wouldn’t have a leg to stand on the next time a campaign came before them asking for the right to take anonymous contributions, which has happened in the past.

Murray can still accept very nominal gifts under the city’s gift rules, but the commission did not appear to leave any path for the legal defense fund to proceed. After the vote, Flevaris said he was glad that the commission had given the attorneys for the fund some “clarity” on whether they could proceed. Once Murray’s term ends on December 31, he will be a private citizen no longer subject to the city’s ethics rules; however, Flevaris said “time is of the essence” in the lawsuit. Paul Lawrence, another attorney for the mayor’s supporters, said he hadn’t “heard anything to suggest” Murray would resign in order to start collecting contributions to help him defend against the lawsuit.

Turina James: “I’m the face of a heroin addict. Just a year and seven months ago, I was right out there with all of them. Without harm reduction … I don’t know what I would have done.”

2. Also yesterday, the King County Council’s Health, Housing, and Human Services Committee decided to delay for another month a motion that would direct King County Executive Dow Constantine to prepare a report and work plan for the creation of two pilot supervised drug consumption sites in King County. Citing the number of people (about 40) who showed up to testify in the middle of the afternoon, committee chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles postponed the measure that was the subject of all that testimony on the grounds that there was too much else on yesterday’s agenda.

Most of those who turned out to testify—including emergency room nurses, recovering addicts, Real Change vendors, and residents of neighborhoods, like Belltown, where injection drug use is common—supported the sites. However, the delay speaks to the disproportionate weight of opponents’ voices.  Yesterday, those opponents claimed, as they always do, that supervised consumption sites will turn entire neighborhoods into apocalyptic landscapes overrun by strung-out zombies who shoot up, turn tricks, and lie half-dead with their faces on the sidewalk in front of “legalized shooting galleries” that exist to “enable human suffering.”

“You seem to be forgetting that heroin is illegal,” one opponent, who identified himself as a recovering addict, said. “This plan is completely insane,” argued another.

Peer-reviewed studies from supervised-injection and -consumption sites around the world show that they reduce deaths from overdoses, infections, HIV, and hepatitis C, and connect people struggling with addiction to services and treatment.

Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, a member of the task force that, almost nine months ago, recommended a supervised consumption site pilot project as part of a comprehensive package of recommendations to address the opiate and heroin addiction epidemic, said after the meeting that she was frustrated with the slow pace the committee has taken. “It’s hard to say that it’s behind schedule, given that it would be the first of its kind in the country. That said, this isn’t ideal, because these recommendations have been sitting for months.” Noting that the task force only recommended a three-year pilot project, Daugaard said the only way to demonstrate whether supervised consumption can work, or that it’s doomed to disaster, is to try it.

“The answer to those questions [opponents raised] lies is the implementation. We will find out whether there are good, bad, or neutral effects, and we will make an assessment at that point,” Daugaard said.

“But staying in this limbo is the worst of all possible worlds. Planning was necessary. Stalling is not.”

3. In response to a 58 percent increase since 2013 in the number of complaints about vacant buildings, mostly single-family houses, that have fallen into disrepair across the city, the council is considering legislation that would streamline the process for declaring empty buildings hazardous and tearing them down.

Currently, city law requires property owners to wait a full year before tearing down a building if it was most recently occupied by renters; the changes would lower that timeline to four months (which the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections says  is still plenty of time to “ensure that good-quality rental housing is not inappropriately removed”) and make it easier for the city to demolish or clean out hazardous properties and so-called squatter houses. At the city’s planning, land use, and zoning committee Tuesday, Seattle fire chief Harold Scoggins said that in the past 28 months, the fire department has responded to 47 fires in vacant buildings. “That’s very significant for us,” Scoggins said.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support