Planning a Domestic Violence Prosecutor-Led Diversion (PLD) Program
This toolkit is intended to guide prosecutors and program planners through the process of developing a diversion program for domestic violence (DV) cases. The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) acknowledges the complexity of DV prosecution and the desire of state, local, and federal prosecutors to build sustainable, data-informed diversion programs for DV-related offenses. Criminal justice reform efforts have increasingly provided a pathway for prosecutors to explore new ways to manage DV cases in a manner that focuses on the safety of the victim while delivering alternative treatment options to the accused.
This toolkit seeks to provide guidepost questions and considerations for program developers and highlight innovative alternatives to incarceration for DV-related offenses. With the implementation of this toolkit, DV diversion programs can bolster victim safety, prevent recidivism, address the root causes of violence to disrupt the cycle of violence, and create safer communities.
Glossary of Terms
APA acknowledges that prosecutors’ offices, criminal justice stakeholders, and the public often utilize the same or similar terms to describe certain individuals, offenses, and diversion programs. However, these terms may have different meanings or implications depending upon the geographic region, professional discipline, or intended audience. To ensure clarity and uniformity throughout this toolkit, definitions for these common terms are provided below.
Diversion encompasses a broad range of programs that remove individuals from the traditional criminal justice system processes and divert them into community-based treatment designed to reduce their likelihood of reoffending.
Diversion programs address behavioral health needs, encourage accountability, increase victim safety and restitution, and address the underlying root causes of violent behavior to disrupt the cycle of violence. Individuals who successfully complete a diversionary program may experience a range of benefits. These include having their cases or charges dismissed, having the charges reduced or mitigated, or avoiding the stigma and collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.
Additionally, diversion can occur at various stages in the criminal justice process, from pre-arrest diversion to post-arrest, court-based programs. Program guidelines and recommendations contained in this toolkit are focused on prosecutor-led alternatives to incarceration at each stage of the criminal justice process. However, specific guidance pertaining to a particular form of diversion programming (i.e., court-based diversion) will be noted.
Toolkit Note: Many programs and jurisdictions across the country and the world utilize various terms and definitions for diversion. One common term, restorative justice, refers to “a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior.” Centre for Justice & Reconciliation, Lesson 1: What is Restorative Justice?, http://restorativejustice.org/restorative-justice/about-restorative-justice/tutorial-intro-to-restorative-justice/lesson-1-what-is-restorative-justice/#sthash.QuqfHTu1.dpbs (last visited October 19, 2021). For the limited purposes of this toolkit, we will not address restorative justice measures and will focus on the definition of diversion that is listed above in Section B.
Crime that can include intimate partner violence (IPV), child abuse, protective orders, stalking, parents of a child, or any crime involving people related by blood relations, “household members,” or family relations.
Toolkit Note: State statutes may have existing statutory definitions of DV or IPV. Please review your specific state statute carefully prior to planning your diversion program.
A person who stands accused, but not proven, of committing a DV offense and whose case is being diverted from the criminal justice system.
A person against whom an act has been committed that falls under the definition of DV.
Key Considerations and Program Basics
In conjunction with the particularized sections of this toolkit, these key themes and considerations can bolster programmatic success when maintained as the centric focus at each stage of DV diversion program planning. These key themes and considerations can bolster programmatic success when maintained as the central focus at each stage of DV diversion program planning.
Availability of Free or Low-Cost Options
The availability of free or low-cost evidence-informed treatment for enrolled individuals that responds to their behavioral health needs to reduce risk, recidivism, and prevent escalation of violent behavior is key to programmatic success.
Culturally Competent Programming
Culturally competent programming is necessary to address behavioral health needs of the enrolled individuals from communities of color and ameliorate disparate impacts on marginalized communities with a focus on risk factors and addressing root causes.
Strong partnerships between prosecutors, law enforcement, civil attorneys, court personnel, treatment providers, and diversion program administrators can bolster diversion programming. A multidisciplinary team dedicated to DV diversion can communicate regularly to monitor the progress of cases and facilitate necessary interventions and treatment models for programmatic success. Partnerships should host regular case management meetings to discuss diversion potential, treatment plans, high-risk cases, and review progress for ongoing cases can ensure the safety of victims and continued success of diversion participants.
Judicial involvement, training, and buy-in is also critical for successful court-based diversion. Post-Charge diversion programs can have a dedicated judge for DV diversion to receive updated DV training and track ongoing cases. In the absence of judicial involvement, pre-charge diversion programs can have a navigator or someone to supervise the participant as they progress through the program and provide periodic updates and/or address breaches of the program.
Data and Technology
Utilize data and technology to inform diversion creation and track success. Planners can draw from research, data, and technology to provide evidence-informed diversion programs by highlighting behavioral health needs of enrolled individuals, victimization rates and populations, current options for treatment, and racial and ethnic or socioeconomic disparities in both enrolled individuals and victims. These programs can utilize linked data sets, whenever possible. Establishing partnerships with academic institutions and public health professionals can assist with understanding and modifying data collection and analysis to improve data-informed responses to DV. Ongoing internal and external evaluation of program implementation can create a learning model for policy adjustments and increased efficacy. Case Management Systems (CMS) or internal tracking likely have capacity to track a number of successful participants and recidivism rates.
Below are some data metrics to consider tracking to ensure programmatic success and efficacy.
- Racial and socioeconomic demographics of both victim and enrolled individual.
- Treatment dosage and success rates.
- How to analyze participation.
- Criminal history.
- Number and history of successful participants including qualitative narratives of program participants.
- Victim pre- and post-diversion input, both qualitative and quantitative data.
A robust victim services component is crucial to an impactful DV diversion program. The considerations outlined in this section can assist prosecutors in building a strong victim services response to increase victim safety and empowerment throughout the criminal justice process.
Case Study: Survivor’s FIRST (King County, Washington)
The Survivor’s FIRST (Facilitating Information and Resources for Survivors of Trauma) program in King County, Washington was launched in 2019 by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in partnership with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Housed in the YWCA, Survivor’s FIRST aims to directly connect survivor-defendants with intervention services in lieu of criminal charges.
- Legally recognized victim of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking, and prostitution.
- Facing criminal charges (either in a police referral or in a filed case).
Survivor’s FIRST partners with the YWCA to provide the following treatment and assistance to participants:
- Trauma-informed Advocacy
- Legal Advocacy
- Housing Resources
- Community Resources and Connections
- Empowerment Support Group
- Referrals for Job Readiness
- Financial Education
Survivors FIRST seeks to support the needs of survivor-defendants, defined as victims of abuse who have been accused of various crimes as a result of their victimization. Survivors FIRST specifically targets the needs of criminalized survivors of DV in underserved communities. The program also aims to reduce the racial disproportionality of survivors of gender-based violence in the criminal legal system by diverting survivors of color to culturally appropriate services to address trauma resulting from their victimization and any additional needs as appropriate.
To learn more, sign up for the APA DV listserv or contact us directly at info@APAInc.org Division: Domestic Violence Unit.
For additional information and resources, see:
Here are additional things to consider in relation to developing a behavioral health prosecutor-led diversion program. Click on the links below to access information on each stage of the diversion planning process.
Articulating clear goals of a DV diversion program at the outset of the planning process can be critical to long-term programmatic success. Some of the most common and important goals of diversion include addressing the underlying cause of violent behavior, reducing recidivism, improving community behavioral health, addressing victim safety, and ensuring accountability.
Program planners should carefully review whether prosecutors are authorized to create such programs by caselaw, statute, court rule, or by their inherent prosecutorial discretion. In the absence of such authority, program planners may have to initiate action to create such authority.
Eligibility standards are central to the structure of any diversion program, but are especially significant with respect to the handling of DV offenses. When setting eligibility standards, potential considerations include an individual’s criminal record or prior offenses, treatment history (prior diversion participation), and the likely effect of diversion in minimizing the likelihood of future violent behavior. In cases of DV, these standards should also account for the existence of injury caused by the incident, a lethality assessment, and the presence of mental health or substance abuse concerns, among other relevant factors.
When crafting eligibility requirements, it is critical for program planners to determine the appropriate timing of program referrals in the diversion process, the role of prosecutorial discretion, and ways to reduce barriers to program enrollment, such as an enrolled individual’s inability to pay.
When outlining a successful DV diversion program, program planners should account for the way external factors, such as resource constraints or costs associated with diversion, may shape diversion outcomes or violations of program requirements. It is also important to keep in mind that a variety of options, including trauma-informed therapy, a Basic Needs Assessment, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can be offered to enrolled individuals on a case-by-case basis and under the direction of mental health professionals.
Program administrators with limited resources can generate a list of treatment providers to refer enrolled individuals if existing treatment partnerships are not built into the diversion program. Additionally, when establishing program conditions, it is necessary to consider the outcome for successful completion of the diversion program. These options may include expungement after completion, a graduation ceremony, or dismissal of reduction of charges.
The complexity of DV cases warrants a consistent and thorough process for screening potential candidates for diversion. Program planners should actively seek the input of prosecutors and victim advocates from specialized DV units, or those trained to handle DV matters, because they are in the best position to understand the intricate case review process and lethality screenings for diversion. When such specialized units or staff are not available, program planners can proactively seek to engage clinical partners and treatment providers in this process. In addition, program planners should include a review of an enrolled individual’s history to ensure that any past trauma can be addressed through counseling.
Case Study: Early Intervention Plan (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
In 2016, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office partnered with the Sojourner Family Peace Center, the largest nonprofit provider of domestic violence prevention and intervention services in Wisconsin, to address cases of domestic violence.
All cases in which the police (1) make contact with a victim and (2) result in a referral for charges, are asked to meet with the Assistant District Attorney who will review the referral for charges at the Family Peace Center. The Family Peace Center is based on a Justice Center Model, with an accounting for the sensitive and ever-evolving history of the word “justice” in various communities.
The stated objective of the program is to hold perpetrators accountable while also reducing recidivism and protecting the victim and their family from harm in both the near- and long-term.
The program also has a stated focus on prioritizing an understanding of the complicated relationships between the victim and perpetrator in cases of family violence and the historical context in which a specific act of domestic violence occurs.
Early intervention program goals are to:
1) support and encourage pro-social attitudes and behaviors of perpetrators while they are in the justice system;
2) minimize negative consequences such as social stigma or the loss of pro-social support such as family or employment; and
3) provide victims with input in charging decisions and increase their likelihood of receiving restitution.
Milwaukee County’s Early Intervention Program reviews cases for factors that will exclude them from diversion programming. The below factors will exclude enrolled individuals from participation in the diversion program:
- The current offense is a violent DV felony offense.
- A prior misdemeanor conviction for a violent DV offense.
- A prior conviction for a firearms offense.
- A firearm was used against the victim during the commission of the instant offense.
- The enrolled individual has a prior sexual assault conviction.
This pretrial diversion program relies on structured professional judgment, which includes evidenced-based risk factors and decision-making guidelines, to assess the risk of abusive behavior. The instruments of this model focus on dynamic risk factors that assist practitioners in monitoring risk levels and managing risk.
Accordingly, if the enrolled individuals is not excluded by the screening process, a number of dynamic and historical relationship factors are assessed to determine if he/she is eligible for a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). These include: the history of relationship and/or family violence involving tactics of power and control employed by the actor, the existence of a mental impairment or disability, the wishes of the victim, and several other circumstantial or contextual factors.
Finally, cases are reviewed by two senior attorneys who must agree that deferred prosecution is an appropriate outcome.
To learn more, sign up for the APA DV listserv or contact us directly at info@ APAInc.org. For additional resources:
Post-Charge Diversion and Deferred Prosecution Program
Program planners should seek the input of DV specialists and treatment providers and work to facilitate partnerships with mental health and substance misuse agencies at the initial stages of designing the diversion program. It is also essential to prioritize several other program components, including restitution for DV victims, remote treatment options for enrolled individuals, and the establishment of consistent channels of communication between prosecutors, court, and treatment providers.
Case Study: New York City-Wide Diversion Programming
Toolkit Note: The two citywide programs differ from Manhattan’s TI-APIP (seen below) in that they permit enrollment of defendants citywide due to funding from the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
Dignity and Respect is an abusive partner intervention program for male defendants, and operates on an evidenced-based curriculum for individuals mandated to attend by a court. This curriculum includes cognitive behavioral strategies with the goal of creating life skills and strategies that promote healthy relationships. The program also focuses on the impact of trauma on past and current intimate partner violence and relies on a culturally-sensitive approach to engage participants.
Dignity and Respect maintains both a 16-week and 26-week curriculum. The program diverges from anger management by specifically addressing intimate partner violence and emphasizing survivor safety. Program staff are responsible for sending regular compliance reports to the judge, court staff, or probation and can be required to send staff to compliance hearings, if needed.
For more information, see Dignity & Respect FAQ.
Turning Points is an abusive partner intervention program for female defendants, and is designed as an educational program for women who use either violence against their partners.
The program curriculum is divided into three parts:
- Group-oriented educational sessions
- Story-focused training
- Series of group exercises
The first part of Turning Points has nine distinct segments that provide a focus for each group session and are intended to educate participants on the various forms of DV and illuminate its impact on the relationships and wellbeing of family members.
In the second part of Turning Points, the stories of 11 women who have used violence in their own lives are introduced to generate further discussion and reflection among program participants.
Lastly, in the program’s third part, group discussions and exercises are facilitated to highlight recurring themes among women who use violence and teach participants about living with anger, talking to children about the violence, and the experience of abused partners.
For more information, see Turning Points Summary.
Taking steps to carefully track individual and programmatic success is crucial for demonstrating that DV diversion programs are effective and for making policy adjustments when necessary. Program planners have many different options available to them when it comes to program evaluation. Research partners, such as local universities and public health offices, a diversion coordinator in the prosecutor’s office, or pretrial services are just a few of the many resources program planners can engage with to develop effective evaluation mechanisms. Maintaining records to assess completion and recidivism rates and a Case Management System (CMS) are also useful tools for assessing the success of a DV diversion program.
DV cases in which families, children, or pets are involved can complicate diversion eligibility and conditions. Program planners and prosecutors can account for the possibility of any prior or co-existing abuse in their program conditions and eligibility requirements. They should also understand the role that pets can play in providing support to survivors who are often forced to enter shelter or safe housing and the protections that animals in their jurisdictions can be afforded during the diversion process (i.e., including pets or animals on stay away or protective orders).
Case Study: Trauma-Informed Abusive Partner Intervention Program (TI-APIP) (Manhattan, New York)
The Trauma-Informed Abusive Partner Intervention Program (TI-APIP) originated in 2018 from the Manhattan DA’s Domestic Violence Initiative, a year-long working group comprised of criminal justice stakeholders, public health officials, victim advocates, and community-based organizations tasked with developing citywide recommendations to reduce domestic violence recidivism and enhance responses across systems. Implemented in partnership with the Urban Resource Institute (URI), TI-APIP aims to address domestic violence as a public health crisis and incorporates best and promising practices for working with enrolled individuals who have experienced trauma. These practices include foundational techniques in group therapy and somatic practice.
The TI-APIP aims to help enrolled individuals take responsibility for their behaviors using a trauma-informed approach designed to support long-term healing, reduce intimate partner violence recidivism, and assist people who have used violence in relationships in developing alternatives to violence and control in relationships.
The TI-APIP is funded through the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (CJII). The program is completely free-of-charge for all participants. The program is grounded “in the belief that individuals are capable of change if given the support, tools, and resources needed to do so.” TI-APIP staff help participants to understand why their behavior is abusive, identify underlying thought patterns, and develop healthier habits and communities to reduce recidivism.
- Misdemeanor charges
- Certain felony charges related to intimate partner violence that are arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court.
The program worked closely with New York City Court Parts D and IDV, ADAs, Resource Coordinators and Alternative to Incarceration programs to find referrals and support enrolled individuals through programming.
To test the efficacy of the TI-APIP model, the Manhattan DA’s Office, through CJII, is funding a process and outcome evaluation of the program.
The TI-APIP incorporates survivor perspectives where possible, provides opportunities for peer support after completion of the mandated sessions, and facilitates access to a continuing accountability group following program completion. Notably, this program provides free, in-house wraparound supports, including individualized trauma-specific services (such as therapy) and ongoing case management to respond to participant’s basic living needs (such as financial, educational, and housing goals, as well as emotional, spiritual, physical, and social supports).
The program is grounded “in the belief that individuals are capable of change if given the support, tools, and resources needed to do so.” TI-APIP staff help participants to understand why their behavior is abusive, identify underlying thought patterns, and develop healthier habits and communities to reduce recidivism. The program leans into this value by modeling empathy and listening skills while holding participants accountable for harmful behavior. There is an emphasis on multiple truths, differing perspectives and paying attention to one’s own needs in place of dominating others in an attempt to satisfy one’s own desires. The program continues to expand participants’ awareness around abusive behavior, placing emphasis on areas such as being a subtle disruptive presence in the home as well as pet abuse. URI’s PALS program is highlighted in greater detail below.
The People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) program was launched by URI in 2013 to address an additional gap in services in New York City for survivors of domestic violence with pets. PALS looks to reduce a barrier to seeking safety by offering co-living for survivors in URI’s domestic violence shelter settings with their pets, and hopes to interrupt the cycle of violence for both people and animals.
In addition to the direct services provided to individuals and families in our shelters, an integral piece of the PALS program is conducting outreach and providing training on the intersection of domestic violence and abuse of animals, and the need for increased resources and support for survivors of abuse and their pets. These outreach and training efforts are intended to raise awareness on these issues, inform the public and service providers of URI’s programs and offerings, and to inspire and assist other organizations and communities in developing similar initiatives for survivors with pets. Training is provided to a wide array of entities, including domestic violence services providers, government, law enforcement and animal welfare agencies, student and professional groups and coalitions, and other community-based organizations.
To learn more, sign up for the APA DV listserv or contact us directly at info@APAInc.org Division: Domestic Violence Unit.
For additional resources:
Manhattan DA Domestic Violence Unit
Manhattan DA Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (CJII)
Abusive Partner Intervention Program (APIP)
Additional Resources and Trainings
**This page will be updated as resources become available!**
A Roadmap to Designing a Successful Diversion Program: What Questions Should My Office Be Asking?
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing a DV diversion program, there are several questions that can serve as a roadmap for program planners. The key questions contained in the below resource can help program planners better identify program goals and overcome potential obstacles to programmatic success.