Boom in For-Profit Diversion Programs Raises Caution Flags

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Illinois is a hotbed for the for-profit industry that contracts with authorities to run diversion programs keeping defendants out of jail or prison but under supervision, ProPublica‘s Illinois Reporting Project reports. The expansion of private, for-profit diversion programs comes as states struggle with the costs of their prison populations and counties grapple with their own financial woes. But it concerns criminologists and others who see in it the intersection of two troubling trends: the outsourcing of crucial operations of the criminal justice system to the private sector, and the growing imposition of fees on mostly low-income defendants.

Diversion programs typically require suspects to pay fees and take courses related to their charges. Prosecutors also may add conditions such as community service or drug or alcohol testing. Fees are divided between the companies and the prosecutor’s office, though the companies typically receive most of the money. These practices raise a host of legal and ethical questions, including whether they create an uneven playing field for criminal defendants, with those able to pay gaining an advantage over those who cannot, and whether they create financial incentives for prosecutors to dispose of cases in ways they might not otherwise. Twenty-four Illinois counties contract with CorrectiveSolutions, or a sister firm, Victim Services Inc., to run fee-based diversion programs, mostly in bad-check cases but sometimes for more serious crimes, including theft, drug and alcohol offenses, and even domestic violence. At least 10 Illinois counties contract with another firm, BounceBack Inc., that offers diversion programs for suspects in bad-check cases. Nationwide, nearly 200 prosecutors’ offices in at least 22 states contract with CorrectiveSolutions or BounceBack, according to a February report by the American Civil Liberties Union. Officials at CorrectiveSolutions say they operate in approximately 100 jurisdictions.

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