What is a “Diversion Program” and Who Can Use One?

In its most simple definition, a Diversion Program is a rehabilitation program for criminals meant to prevent a conviction and a criminal record. However, the details of where, what kind, and who is eligible are different from state-to-state and county-to-county.

Diversion inside the criminal justice system can take many forms. When police officers let a motorist go with a warning instead of a speeding ticket, this is a personal decision to enact diversion, coined “informal diversion”. However, most diversion involves a formal program. Encyclopaedia Britannica outlines some of the more formal types of diversion:

  • Post-Arrest Social Service Programs – An example of this would be a substance abuser who enters a detox program. This approach addresses the root cause of their behavior to prevent it from happening again. Upon completion of these programs, the case will return to the courts for dismissal. If the program isn’t completed or stipulations aren’t met, the case will proceed within the court system.
  • Jail Diversion Programs – This type of program keeps the offender from serving jail time while waiting to appear in court. This type of diversion begins when a police officer writes a summons to appear in court or after an arrest and booking at the police station. This allows the offender to maintain their job or other responsibilities while awaiting their court date.
  • Pre-trial and Post-Conviction Diversion – Some diversion programs begin after an arrest, but before the offender enters a plea in court. However, even after conviction, a judge may opt to sentence an offender to a diversion program instead of incarceration. This takes many forms, such as probation, restitution, and community service.

Diversion programs are usually offered to first-time offenders or those who have committed nonviolent crimes. The goal in diversion is to give the offender the opportunity to correct his behavior without gaining a criminal record. It is also less costly to the courts, as rehabilitation is less expensive than prosecuting and incarcerating the offender.

Diversion programs are widely used within the juvenile justice system. Youth.gov reports that: “While it is recognized that some youth commit serious offenses and may need to be confined to a secure setting, research has shown that many youths in the juvenile justice system are there for relatively minor offenses, have significant mental health issues, and end up in out-of-home placement or on probation by default. Diversion programs are alternatives to initial or continued formal processing of youth in the juvenile delinquency system.” Their article goes on to say that they believe diversion programs are a more productive way to prevent future crimes than putting juveniles through the court system. They feel formal processing puts a delinquent label on the child and that exposing them to adult correctional facilities harms more than it helps.

Different entities offer these programs, such as:

  • Police Departments
  • The Courts
  • The District Attorney’s Office
  • Outside Service Agencies

In example, Ramsey County Diversion Programs are available to adults and juveniles.  According to the County Attorney’s office, juveniles who have little or no criminal history are eligible for consideration for a diversion program. They aim to avoid charges and a court record. A Juvenile Diversion Guidelines document is available on the Ramsey County website.

For adults, Ramsey County works with a pretrial service agency, Project Remand, to implement diversion programs. They, too, have qualification guidelines available on their website.

In summary, Diversion Programs are best for first-time offenders or those with minor charges who benefit from rehabilitation through social services, restitution, or community service rather than conviction and a prison sentence.

For more information on Diversion Programs, please contact us. The Law Office of Alex DeMarco has proudly served the St. Paul area for the past ten years, gaining expertise and experience in representing a broad range of offenses. Our priority is to ensure the best possible resolution for our clients.