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Areas of Work
In 2011, in an attempt to move away from the War on Drugs paradigm and to reduce racial disparity in drug enforcement, a new harm-reduction oriented process for responding to drug activity and street-based sex work was pioneered and launched in Seattle-King County called “Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion” (LEAD®). This program was the result of a unique collaboration between police, district attorneys, civil rights advocates and public defenders, political leaders, mental health and drug treatment providers, housing providers and other service agencies, and business and neighborhood leaders – all working together to find new ways to solve real problems for individuals who did not respond well to a criminal justice system driven approach that relies on arrest, prosecution, and punishment. Under LEAD, police officers exercise discretionary authority at the point of contact to divert individuals to a community-based intervention program for low-level criminal offenses (such as drug possession, sales, and prostitution offenses).
Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-WA) is a grassroots organizations affiliated with VOCAL-NY. VOCAL-WA builds power among low- and no- income people directly affected by the war on drugs, homelessness, mass incarceration, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic to create healthy and just communities for all. We accomplish this through community organizing, leadership development, public education, participatory research and direct action. VOCAL-WA works on issue advocacy campaigns that are chosen and led by grassroots community leaders focused on making concrete improvements in their lives. VOCAL-WA also works with policy experts, research partners, and other technical advisers to monitor and report on key budget, legislative and policy issues affecting our communities.
The Public Defender Association’s Racial Disparity Project (RDP) worked to improve police accountability and reconsider the role of the police since its inception in 1998. From 2002 - 2012, RDP lawyers participated in and served as technical advisers to the Minority Executive Directors’ Coalition Multi-Racial Task Force on Police Accountability. During the 2010 Department of Justice investigation into allegations of a pattern and practice of excessive force and racial discrimination by SPD, the RDP provided extensive evidence related to both aspects of the investigation. Seattle’s Community Police Commission was formed in 2013 as a product of the settlement agreement arrived at as a result of the DOJ investigation, to provide a robust community voice in the police reform process and to bring community expertise to bear on policing policy. PDA Director Lisa Daugaard was named co-chair of the CPC and continues to serve in that role. Community Advocate Enrique Gonzalez (then working with El Centro de la Raza) was appointed to the Commission in 2014.
In the spirit of our four decade history as a public defense office committed to system reform, the current incarnation of the Public Defender Association continues to do policy advocacy, litigation, public education and organizing on issues that systemically affect people who are or are likely to be engaged by the justice system. PDA recognizes there are intersections between the criminal justice system and various systems that contribute to and perpetuate inequity. PDA’s system reform work emerges from these connections; we believe efforts to reform the criminal justice system must take a multifaceted, collaborative approach and apply fresh strategies to be successful. PDA works closely with community, government, and legal partners to address the web of systems impacting the communities we seek to help.