GETTING STARTED

Although the concept of diversion has been an important part of the criminal justice system for many years, the challenges of rising incarceration costs, limited system resources, and the desire for more effective criminal justice system outcomes have led prosecutors to apply diversion to new and more challenging populations. 

 

This online toolkit is intended as a resource to help prosecutors design, implement, and evaluate these new prosecutor-led diversion options.  More broadly, this toolkit is also a resource for other criminal justice system stakeholders (law enforcement, the defense, the judiciary, probation & pretrial services, social service providers, policy makers, and the general public) to better understand prosecutor-led diversion and why it matters.

  • This “Getting Started” page provides background information on what diversion is, what prosecutor-led diversion is, and how prosecutor-led diversion relates to other diversionary approaches including problem solving courts. It is also designed to help inform other key system stakeholders of why prosecutor-led diversion is important.

  • The “Training and Technical Assistance” page provides resources and information on what kinds of help are available to prosecutors to help them develop such prosecutor-led programs and how to request such help.

  • The “Planning & Implementation” pages contain information on some of the key issues to think about when planning such a program.

  • The “Resources” pages contain a host of sample materials designed to help prosecutors jump start their program planning and avoid the need to reinvent the wheel.

  • And finally, the “Contact Us” page describes how to reach us, ask questions, and provide feedback about the toolkit’s contents.

What is Diversion?

Diversion encompasses a broad range of programs which remove individuals from the traditional criminal justice system process and diverts them into community-based treatment designed to reduce their likelihood of reoffending.  Such programs aim to preserve limited system resources so that they can be dedicated to more serious cases that call for traditional case processing.

 

Diversion programs also frequently include restorative justice elements that encourage offender accountability, increase victim restitution, and restore affected communities. Individuals who successfully complete a diversionary program have their cases or charges dismissed and avoid the stigma and collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. 

What is Prosecutor-Led Diversion ?

Diversion programs can generally be characterized as police-led, prosecutor-led, or court-led, based upon who is responsible for deciding:

 

  • What the eligibility criteria are for a given program,

  • If a diversion offer is made in a given case,

  • What conditions must be met to complete the program, and

  • If a program participant has successfully completed those conditions.

 

It is not unusual for multiple criminal justice system partners to have input on these important decisions as many such programs involve cross-agency partnerships.  In a prosecutor-led diversion program, however, these responsibilities are primarily exercised by the prosecutor. 

A SHORT HISTORY OF PROSECUTOR-LED DIVERSION PROGRAMS

 

Diversion began to emerge in the criminal justice system as early as the 1940s and proliferated in the 1960s and beyond.  Programs begun prior to the 1990s tended to be prosecutor-led diversion options, while those created since the 1990s have tended to be court-led or pretrial services-led initiatives.  Despite this general tendency, prosecutor-led diversion programs have existed and continued to thrive throughout and have given prosecutors an important alternative means of resolving cases for appropriate individuals.  Generally, such programming has tended to be applied to first time violators charged with less serious offenses.

 

But a new era of prosecutorial innovation and a desire for more disposition options is changing the nature and scope of how prosecutor-led diversion operates.  These innovations are allowing prosecutor-led diversion to be applied safely to larger and more challenging populations and to more serious offenses. This initiative hopes to support and encourage these developments.

Other Types of Diversion

Police-led diversion includes two models, an older one known as Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) and the more recent Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD).  In CIT programs, specially trained police teams deal with individuals in mental health crisis and direct those individuals into treatment rather than jail.  Similarly, in LEAD programs, specially trained police officers identify persons who are drug involved and who may be better served by being diverted into drug treatment rather than being booked into jail.  

Court-Led (or Pretrial Services-Led) Diversion programs operate once criminal charges are filed with the court and involve cases that are pre-adjudication, where a finding of guilt has not yet been entered.  Some of these programs operate in the problem solving court setting.  Problem solving court models may be based on either a pre-adjudication or post-adjudication model.  Pre-adjudication problem solving courts qualify as diversion programs.  Post-adjudication problem solving courts, including many drug courts, are not diversion programs, but rather more accurately considered as deferred sentencing programs.

The following chart illustrates the differences between these various forms of diversion in a simplified way.  In actuality, the borders between them blur due to the involvement of other criminal justice system partners in making the four important decisions listed above.

What is the Prosecutor-Led Diversion Initiative?

The Prosecutor-Led Diversion Initiative is a Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) national training and technical assistance program designed to help prosecutors plan, implement, and evaluate new prosecutor-led diversion options. Funded under the Second Chance Act, the initiative seeks to encourage, support, and provide assistance to prosecutors who are building the next generation of diversion programming: programs that serve individuals who are jail or prison bound and who frequently suffer from mental illness, 

drug or alcohol dependency issues, or who are victims of sexual trafficking.

 

The Association of Prosecuting Attorney (APA) was selected by BJA as the national training and technical assistance provider for the initiative following a competitive grant solicitation.  APA is working collaboratively with BJA in developing the initiative with additional support from the Center for Innovation and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.  

 

To learn more about the initiative, see the PLD Initiative Fact Sheet. 

Why Prosecutor-Led Diversion?
 

Why is Prosecutor-Led Diversion relevant to you? Select which best describes your potential interest to find out how Prosecutor-Led Diversion applies to you.