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How Seattle Is Helping Addicts Avoid Prison

Once upon a time, Jeremy Bradford saw his life spread before him; years of infinite possibility.

The Seattle native had his life together. A successful stint in the Marines had led him to a sales career. Bradford was on an upward trajectory at one of the city's best-known department stores.

But a business trip to Texas sent Bradford on an unexpected detour.

He'd had a couple of drinks at a bar one evening. He saw himself as the life of the party. When an attractive young woman approached and offered him a line of cocaine off her hip, Bradford thought, "Why not?"

Soon Bradford was spending all his money on the drug. He was fired from his job when a manager caught him napping. Things went from bad to worse when an acquaintance turned him onto crack.

Bradford wound up on the streets. He couldn't afford both a place to live and the crack he depended on.

Soon Bradford was in and out of jail on a string of charges: theft, breaking and entering, driving without a license. Beat cops in Seattle knew him by name. They knew that when they busted him, he'd be back out on the streets in no time.

What had once been a bright future for Bradford was murky at best. But Bradford got lucky.

Just as he hit bottom, Seattle was working on a new way to help minor offenders like Bradford. Law enforcement officials, defense attorneys and social workers teamed up to create the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, or LEAD.

LEAD's purpose is to provide a different option for street drug users and repeat low-level offenders. Police and corrections officers patrol the streets to identify people they believe LEAD can help, like Bradford.

Participants in the program meet regularly with a social worker who facilitates getting services based on each person’s goals. There is no requirement for a person to get clean.

Chad Winfrey, an officer with the Washington State Department of Corrections, is one of the cops trained to make social referrals to the LEAD program. He takes the pulse of the street in his day to day work, talking with people he thinks might be a good fit.

But he says they have to be ready for the program. “I’m not in the business of trying to help people who aren’t trying to help themselves.”

He said the program keeps low-level drug offenders from bouncing back and forth between prison and the street. “I mean it’s just this crazy cycle, it was very punitive and nothing was changing,” Winfrey said.

It's been three years since officers told him about LEAD, and now Bradford is now off the streets. He's got a place to live and he's holding onto his sobriety one day at a time.

Bradford has one strong motivation: a seven-year-old daughter he fathered before his involvement with LEAD. Bradford's mother and stepfather have custody of the girl, but these days he spends time with her. He wants her to know that she can achieve her dreams, whatever they might be.

And for the first time in years, Bradford can imagine a future for himself that doesn't involve drugs. He's not there yet, but he credits his faith, his mentors and LEAD for opening the door.

Learn more about the LEAD program:

This segment originally aired September 15, 2014.