Prosecutor-Led Diversion Programs Lead to Reduced Incarceration, Re-Arrest

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Prosecutor-led diversion programs can lead to reduced conviction and incarceration, as well as reduced re-arrest rates, according to a study issued by the National Institute of Justice.

The study examined 16 prosecutor-led diversion programs in 11 jurisdictions across the country and conducted impact evaluations of five programs and cost evaluations of four programs.

Authors found that conviction rates among diversion and comparison cases were nine percent vs. 74 percent in Milwaukee’s Diversion program; 16 percent vs. 64 percent in Chittenden County’s Rapid Intervention Community Court (RICC), and three percent vs. 61 percent among felony defendants in Cook County’s Drug School.

Notably, all five programs also achieved at least some reduction in the use of jail sentences.

In recent years, a growing number of prosecutors have established pretrial diversion programs, either pre-filing—before charges are filed with the court—or post-filing—after the court process begins but before a disposition.

Participating defendants must complete assigned treatment, services, or other diversion requirements. If they do, the charges are typically dismissed, relieving the defendant of jail time and the latter consequences of a criminal record.

Diversion programs are beneficial not only to defendants, but to prosecutors as well, who save time, money and resources that could be allocated towards more serious and complex crimes, said the authors.

Now, prosecutor-led diversion programs are one of several increasingly popular “front-end” interventions targeting cases early in case processing, often before a case reaches the court, they noted.

“Our study confirmed a broader trend towards diverting cases to treatment or services at an extremely early juncture in criminal case processing,” the authors concluded.

Here are some of the other main findings in the study:

  • Case Outcomes: All five programs participating in impact evaluations (two in Cook County, two in Milwaukee, and one in Chittenden County, VT) reduced the likelihood of conviction — often by a sizable magnitude.  All five programs also reduced the likelihood of a jail sentence (significant in four and approaching significance in the fifth program).
  • Re-Arrest: Four of five programs reduced the likelihood of re-arrest at two years from program enrollment (with at least one statistically significant finding for three programs and at least one finding approaching significance in the fourth).  The fifth site did not change re-arrest outcomes.
  • Cost: All four programs whose investment costs were examined (two in Cook County and one each in Chittenden and San Francisco) produced sizable cost and resource savings.  Not surprisingly, savings were greatest in the two pre-filing programs examined, which do not entail any court processing for program completers.  All three programs whose output costs were examined (i.e., omitting the San Francisco site) also produced output savings, mainly stemming from less use of probation and jail sentences.

This study was implemented as a collaboration among the Center for Court Innovation, the RAND Corporation, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Police Foundation. A full copy of the report can be found here.

Megan Hadley is a staff writer with The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.

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