(Washington, DC) – A new survey of criminal justice diversion programs across the U.S. reveals that law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts are increasingly diverting certain people with non-violent charges away from courts and incarceration and into smarter, more science-based, and more effective alternatives in the community. These diversion options are designed to save costs, address individuals’ behavioral health issues, and reduce their likelihood of recidivism.
The report, produced by the Center for Health and Justice at TASC (CHJ) and released at a U.S. Congressional staff briefing today, identifies and describes more than 100 criminal justice diversion programs from across the country upon which justice systems increasingly rely.
“The idea with this report is to provide a picture of the landscape of diversion and to promote its effective use at the front end of the justice system,” said CHJ President Pamela Rodriguez. “The survey intends to boost conversations across the country about available alternatives to conviction and incarceration.”
Rodriguez says diversion programs are gaining currency among law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts across the country.
“The survey found that as prison populations have swelled and public budgets have tightened, many jurisdictions are embracing diversion alternatives out of necessity,” said Rodriguez. “The report is a great benefit to law enforcement and justice systems in terms of the scope and breadth of diversion options available to them.”
The survey rests on the understanding that a criminal conviction – for either a misdemeanor or felony – triggers a cascade of collateral consequences that often severely hamper an individual’s ability to become and remain a productive member of the community, according to Rodriguez.
“This survey focuses on diversion programs that address an individual’s behavior without resulting in a criminal conviction,” said Rodriguez. “These programs may occur as early as street-level law enforcement intervention, or as late as court involvement, but the distinguishing characteristic of the programs surveyed is that they allow individuals to avoid a conviction, which otherwise clings to a person long after his or her debt to society has been paid.”
To develop this report, project staff surveyed more than 100 diversion programs with the intention of spotlighting program design, participating stakeholders, affected communities, implementation challenges and successes, and, where available, cost savings and overall effectiveness, aiming also to express the scale of their existence across the country.
In addition to highlighting the proliferation and diversity of diversion programs across the country, the survey analysis also found:
- While programs vary in their approach to achieve diversion from traditional criminal justice case processing, a common critical component among many is a focus on individuals with substance use and mental health issues.
- Many diversion programs currently are limited to individuals with first-time or low-level offenses.
- Resources should be data driven, matching individuals’ risks and clinical needs with appropriate supervision and services in the community.
- Given the many types of diversion programs in existence across the country, there are no apparent overarching standards for collecting or publishing evaluation data, nor standard definitions and language among such programs.
“We are at a critical juncture in criminal justice policy,” said Rodriguez. “Diversion programs across the country are emerging with a collective voice that says, ‘Locking up and labeling people is rarely the answer to non-violent offenses, especially when substance use and mental health issues play a role. There’s a better way.’”
The Center for Health and Justice at TASC is a national public policy group that offers solutions for criminal justice, child welfare, and behavioral health, focusing on strategies and lessons learned for reducing recidivism, improving health interventions, and achieving public cost savings.
Twitter @TASC_CHJ #diversion
Congressional Staff Briefing on Diversion Programs, Jan. 13, 2014. Speakers (left to right): Pamela Rodriguez, Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities); Kris Nyrop, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project in Seattle; Shauna L. Boliker, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; Mark Kammerer, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; George A.H. Williams, Center for Health and Justice at TASC. Photos by Warren Hansen.