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Ascertaining How Diversion Programs Were Affected by the Pandemic

The Pandemic Affected Diversion Program Utilization Across the Country

I had the pleasure of attending "Pre-trial Services and Post-Pandemic Life: What Comes Next", a webinar paneled by Judge George Eskin (ret.), Chief Tanja Heitman (Santa Barbara County, Chief Probation Officer), Spurgeon Kennedy (President Elect of NAPSA), and Brandon Buskey (attorney with the ACLU) on Monday May 24. NAPSA published a survey recently about changes to in custody practices during the pandemic from April 16, 2020 to June 1, 2020. The panel noted that there was an increase in the use of various pretrial release, early release, and email/video check ins that limited the frequency of in person contact.

Notably, diversion utilization appears to have remained largely unchanged. My first reaction was "How could that be?" After some consideration, and recalling our experience at CorrectiveSolutions over the past year, we observed that courthouses and prosecutors have had limited resources and court time to deal with their traditional caseloads during the pandemic. Anecdotally, we have been told that many prosecutors were forced to deprioritize minor offenses that were typically earmarked for diversion in order for higher risk offenders and more urgent cases to more swiftly move forward during the limited time allotted.

That may explain the leveling of diversion program utilization in the NAPSA survey, and as a result, we predict the use of diversion will skew higher as offices deal with their huge backlog of potentially divertible offenses. We have recently been fielding many questions from our clients about what we can do to help them. The following are some quick tips, keeping in mind that these are broad strokes. When we consult with offices about their unique circumstances surrounding diversion, we take a more granular, customized approach.

  1. Consider a pre-filing program that does not require a court appearance even by video call. This is a great way to filter through a large volume of cases.

  2. Consider a re-referral to the program post-filing.

  3. Categorize diversion offenses broadly by offense and consider how much defendant screening is necessary for minor offenses. This will reduce the administrative load on your staff.

  4. Ensure diversion conditions are achievable via remote communication as much as possible, including online webinars and diversion classes.

  5. Review cases that previously did not complete a diversion program and re-refer for a second time. Many defendants could not complete the first diversion offer during the pandemic for a variety of reasons.

If you would like to start a discussion about how CorrectiveSolutions can help with your current diversion program solutions, or how we can help custom-tailor your diversion experience to meet your unique needs, please visit our contact us page or contact Thomas Jonsson with the information provided below.

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