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Structuring a Diversion Program: Achieving The Program’s Goals

Diversion Programs should meet all your goals in order to achieve success

What Goals Are Met When You Offer A Diversion Program?

Goal: Reduce Docket maintenance and conserve resources

Diversion programs are a cost-saving resource for prosecutors, courts, and jail/prisons alike. Diversion will reduce the number of cases in the criminal justice system as well as post-adjudication supervision/confinement. More importantly for your office, offering diversion earlier in the process will reduce the number of cases that require appearances in court and the subsequent status updates.

“While pretrial programs can decrease the burden on jails, the burden on courts remain the same, unless more efficient alternatives are pursued to hold individuals accountable. Pretrial diversion offers an alternative for individuals charged with certain traffic, misdemeanor or felony offenses.” -NDAA Standards, Comments to Part IV.2, and 4-3.5.

Lower level offenses often require the same time commitment and resources as more serious crimes, but have lower public safety concerns. This is where early intervention diversion can maximize the efficiency by which your office handles cases and can spend resources on more serious offenses.

Goal: Reduce Recidivism

The effectiveness on recidivism in your program is a product of timing, support, and substance. “The less time that has elapsed between the arrest and the intervention, the greater the potential impact on the precipitating behavior.” -NAPSA Standards at p.2. Likewise, early intervention allow offenders to keep their employment and stay with their families, two important support features that have shown to decrease the rate of recidivism. Lastly, the substance of diversion programs incorporate evidence-based cognitive behavioral change practices and community service to effect lasting change.

Goal: Ensure Equal Justice

Written guidelines and policies on offering diversion ensure that similarly situated offenders are treated equally. One way to ensure that all similarly situated offenders are offered diversion is to focus policies on objective criteria such as the offense (i.e., penal codes, amounts, violent vs. non-violent, intent, first time offenders, etc.), and less on subjective criteria such the offender (i.e., geography, age, family background, etc.).

Goal: Proportionality/Reduction of Stigma and Collateral Consequences

Even for lower level offenses, criminal charges have a disproportionate cost and consequence to the offender. What happens to juveniles who may lose their chance to go to school or get their first job? Then there are first time misdemeanor offenses, traffic violations and petty theft to consider. Diversion is a substantive enforcement solution that may preserve the offender’s employment or student status while keeping them with their families, and will not permanently hamper the offender’s life beyond the case at hand.

Eligible Offenders and Offenses

There are two components to deciding whether to divert a case; both should be addressed in your diversion guidelines and policy: Who and for what?

The NDAA Standards gives the following factors to consider when choosing who to divert:

• Special characteristics or difficulties of the offender

• Whether the defendant is a first time offender

• The likelihoodthat the defendant will cooperate with and benefit from the program

• Whether the program is appropriate to the needs of the offender

• The recommendations of the relevant law enforcement agency

• Whether the offender is in school or employed

The NDAA Standards state the factors to be considered when choosing what offenses to divert:

• The nature, severity, or class of the offense

• The impact of diversion and the crime on the community

• Input from law enforcement

• Impact of the crime on the victim

Additionally, prosecutors may want to consider whether certain types of cases are already pleaded on a consistent or semi-consistent basis without structure or guidelines, and thus are susceptible to equal justice or discrimination claims. What kind of precautions are in place to prevent discrimination in an informal plea process? Furthermore, what kind of follow-up is performed on informal plea arrangements and whether they are followed?

Actions upon Program Completion or Failure

The consequences of failing to comply with the conditions of diversion depends on when in the criminal justice process that diversion is offered. There again, there is a significant difference between deferred prosecution and pre-charge diversion. In post plea programs, if the defendant fails the conditions of diversion, then the defendant has already pleaded guilty and the case moves forward to sentencing. In a pre-charge or post-charge program, the defendant who fails diversion will be placed back in other criminal justice process where the defendant left it as if diversion never occurred (and perhaps eligible for re-referral into a post-plea program).

We Can Help

The team at CorrectiveSolutions knows the steps necessary to achieve success with all parts of the process of designing and implementing diversion programs that make sense and are effective for your community. To start a discussion, contact Thomas Jonsson using the information below or visit our contact page today!


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