A diversion program in the criminal justice system is a form of sentencing and such programs are often run by a police department, court, a district attorney's office, or outside agency designed to enable offenders of criminal law to avoid criminal charges and a criminal record. Problem-solving courts typically include a diversion component as part of their program. The purposes of diversion are generally thought to include relief to the courts, police department and probation office, better outcomes compared to direct involvement of the court system, and an opportunity for the offender to avoid prosecution by completing various requirements for the program. These requirements may include:
- Education aimed at preventing future offenses by the offender
- Restitution to victims of the offense
- Completion of community service hours
- Avoiding situations for a specified period in the future that may lead to committing another such offense (such as contact with certain people)
Diversion programs often frame these requirements as an alternative to court or police involvement or, if these institutions are already involved, further prosecution. Successful completion of program requirements often will lead to a dropping or reduction of the charges while failure may bring back or heighten the penalties involved. Charges dismissed because of a diversion program will still lead to additional criminal history points under the US Sentencing Guidelines if there was a finding of guilt by a court or the defendant pleaded guilty or otherwise admitted guilt in open court, provided that the deferred disposition was not a juvenile matter.
Diversion and juvenile justice
Diversion has played a key role in improving outcomes and rehabilitating youthful offenders. The concept of diversion is based on the theory that processing certain youth through the juvenile justice system may do more harm than good. Programs meant to divert juvenile delinquents are often fundamentally different from the programs meant for adults. Many times youth will present with substance abuse and mental health issues which may be the underlying cause of such delinquency.
Diversion in the United Kingdom
Diversion can ensure that people with mental health problems who enter (or are at risk of entering) the criminal justice system are identified and provided with appropriate mental health services, treatment and any other support they need. In the UK, Centre for Mental Health has shown that such diversion represents good value for money, with well-designed intervention helping to reduce reoffending by a third . The need for joined-up services was the focus of a Centre for Mental Health lecture in 2011, in which NHS Confederation chairman Sir Keith Pearson emphasised the need to use custody more effectively and divert those who need it into treatment . In February 2012, the UK government pledged to roll out a national liaison and diversion service by 2014, with 101 sites were duly announced by the Department of Health . Diversion has also been found to be a key element of a more effective approach for young adults in the criminal justice process . A two-year UK pilot organised by the Centre for Mental health, with support and funding from the Department of Health the Youth Justice Board, looked into how to ensure that children and young people with mental health and other problems get the help they need as soon as they enter the youth justice system .
Diversion in the United States
Some jurisdictions in the United States, such as those in California, may impose the completion of DUI programs as punishment for drunk driving in the United States. One such program is the Victim Impact Panel (VIP). administered by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) since 1982. MADD typically charges a $25 "donation" (which is defined as voluntary), even for court-mandated attendance; MADD reported $2,657,293 one year for such donations on its nonprofit tax exempt returns.
- Criminal Justice Diversion Program, Australia, Magistrates Court of Victoria; see also the "Community Correction Order." Accessed 2012-3-3.
- Diversion Program, Pueblo County Government, Pueblo Colorado. Accessed 2012-3-3.
- Diversion, The John Howard Society of Niagara, Canada. Accessed 2012-3-3.
- US Sentencing Guidelines, 4A1.2(f), 2011 revision; and see note 9: "Diversionary Dispositions.—Section 4A1.2(f) requires counting prior adult diversionary dispositions if they involved a judicial determination of guilt or an admission of guilt in open court. This reflects a policy that defendants who receive the benefit of a rehabilitative sentence and continue to commit crimes should not be treated with further leniency."
- Diversion Programs: An Overview, Juvenile Justice Bulletin September 1999, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs. Accessed 2012-3-3.
- Overbey, Chris. Drinking And Driving War in America. Lulu. pp. 45–46. ISBN 978-1-4116-7022-8.