Transforming the System


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Expanding diversion beyond first-time and less serious crimes

Criminal justice policy should focus on strengthening programs that are proven to be effective by expanding pre-booking diversion programs that prevent incarceration and do not result in a criminal record. Many diversion programs have been proven to be effective at reducing crime, lowering recidivism, and promoting safe communities. Several successful diversion programs are included in this document, including Crisis Intervention Teams, LEAD, specialty courts and restorative justice processes. Diversion programs that have strong evaluation metrics in place and are proven to be effective should be expanded and replicated. There is a need to increase the number and diversity of diversion programs throughout the country, especially programs that do not result in a conviction record for defendants. Nonetheless, there should be a focus on decriminalization for most offenses. Diversion programs are a suitable option when involving an individual in the justice system is inevitable or the only other alternative.

To ensure that diversion programs are used as alternatives to criminalization, the local, state, and federal legislatures should pass legislation that:

  • Creates diversion programs that do not result in convictions and are used as an alternative to incarceration. However, these programs should not be used as a tool for the heightened policing of low-income communities. They should be viewed as an alternative where involvement in the criminal justice system would be the only other alternative.
  • Pre-booking diversion programs should be available for all categories of cases including more serious cases.
  • Diversion programs should be provided with adequate funding and resource support.
  • Diversion programs should adopt best practices, maintain comprehensive data on demographics and outcomes, and aim to reduce recidivism. These programs should allow for proper social services provision; provide access to immigration attorneys where there might be immigration-related consequences; allow for independent oversight for the programs; and demonstrate a proven ability to reduce harm.

For their part, the local bar, law schools, judiciary, and federal government should encourage partnerships that foster the creation of local diversion programs that meet individual community needs.

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